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Cablegate: Elections Herald 7: The Inevitable - Opposition

VZCZCXRO8742
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #1000/01 1011401
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101401Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0257
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP WASHINGTON DC 0110

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 001000

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/E, DRL FOR SJOSEPH
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA WATCHER
CJTF-HOA AND CENTCOM FOR POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KJUS KDEM PGOV ET
SUBJECT: ELECTIONS HERALD 7: THE INEVITABLE - OPPOSITION
WITHDRAWAL

REF: ADDIS ABABA 00852 AND PREVIOUS

ADDIS ABAB 00001000 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On April 4, just over one week before the
initial polling date (April 13) in Ethiopia's local
elections, the largest participating opposition party, the
United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) formally outlined
seven demands that they insist must be met by the National
Election Board (NEB) in order for them to remain in the
elections. The list reiterated the plethora of problems that
the UEDF has complained about to both the NEB and the
international community since the election season began -
lack of independent NEB administrators at the local level,
lack of independent observers, and difficulty registering
candidates, among others. In meetings with Ambassador and
Emboffs over the last few months, party chairman Dr. Beyene
Petros and vice chairman Dr. Merera Gudina have repeatedly
said that the UEDF is in the elections only to demonstrate
that they have "attempted to participate in the democratic
process," but didn't expect to win many seats at the local
level or in the by-elections for federal parliamentary seats,
as a direct result of restrictions and harassment by the
ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front
(EPRDF) party. Indeed, neither they nor any other opposition
party were able to field a significant number of candidates.
According to statistics released by the NEB on March 31, the
opposition had less than one percent of the nearly 3.7
million candidates, whereas the EPRDF has a candidate for
nearly every available seat in the country. The UEDF said
that if the NEB did not meet its demands - which it was
certain not to - then they would formally announce a pull-out
on April 10, the last allowable day of campaigning. Despite
the Ambassador's urging of Dr. Beyene to rethink his strategy
of withdrawal, the UEDF gave a press conference in the
afternoon of April 10 announcing they are out of the
elections. END SUMMARY.

-----------------------
UEDF GIVES AN ULTIMATUM

SIPDIS
-----------------------

2. (SBU) On April 4, the UEDF, a coalition of opposition
parties from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
Region (SNNPR) and Oromiya region, gave a press conference
outlining a list of seven demands of the NEB in order for the
UEDF to remain in the local elections scheduled for April 13

SIPDIS
and 20. They demand that the NEB:

-- Assign independent and neutral election administrators to
local NEB offices. They claim that election officials, who
are mostly drawn from the civil service, come entirely from
the EPRDF party membership and are anything but neutral.

-- Elect polling station observers according to the Electoral
Law. The UEDF says that all of the community polling
station-level observers, who, according to the Electoral Law,
are supposed to be members of the community specifically
elected in town-hall forums, were hand selected by the NEB
from kebele (locality) administrations (therefore EPRDF party
cadres), rather than elected. This would mean that of the 12
observers to be present at every polling station where the
UEDF is running (five community members, plus five NEB

SIPDIS
officials, and one each from the EPRDF and UEDF), 11 would be
sympathetic to the EPRDF.

-- Deploy election observers from local NGOs. To date,
despite repeated promises from the NEB to political parties
and the donor community alike, no domestic observation groups
have received licenses from the NEB to participate in the
elections.

-- Register all denied UEDF candidates who sought permission
to run in their local constituency. The UEDF and other
opposition groups have detailed countless incidents of
harassment of potential or registered candidates (reftel) and
claim that the NEB continues to cancel already registered
candidates on a daily basis, typically for very questionable
reasons.

-- Allocate media time fairly to opposition parties. As a
result of the NEB's dubious accounting of party numbers, the
EPRDF is granted 14.5 hours of airtime for every one that the
UEDF receives.

SIPDIS

ADDIS ABAB 00001000 002.2 OF 003

-- Suspend the recently issued election code of conduct until
all parties have had the opportunity to contribute to its
content. Dr. Beyene claims that the UEDF only learned of the
code of conduct after the GoE had already accused him of
violating it when he criticized the NEB on national media.

-- Ensure that EPRDF harassment and imprisonment of UEDF
party members, officials and candidates cease.

3. (SBU) In a meeting with Poloff on April 7, Dr. Beyene and
Dr. Merera said that a combination of recent events were
collectively the "straw that broke the camel's back." In
addition to the alleged recent appointment, rather than
election, of election observers for polling stations, Dr.
Merera said that the NEB changed the rule on party observer
registration. In the 2005 elections, party level observers
were easily allowed to be registered at the national level
and allowed to do so up to the day before the election. Now,
however, observers are required to register locally 10 days
in advance. Given the level of harassment and intimidation
experienced in the Oromiya region, Dr. Merera said that his
party has been unable to convince even one person to act as
an observer. Further pushing them to the decision to issue
an ultimatum to the NEB (made in an emergency party meeting
on April 2) was Dr. Merera's experience the previous weekend
in attempting to campaign for one of his party's candidates.
Upon arriving at the candidate's constituency to attend a
previously planned rally, Dr. Merera was refused access to
the city center and had his campaign materials confiscated by
local security forces, telling him that his planned gathering
was illegal. As explained by Dr. Beyene, these events, when
coupled with the countless other issues they feel were not
addressed by the NEB, mean that the UEDF's participation in
the elections would only lend legitimacy to the "illegally
run election."

4. (SBU) Upon the news of the UEDF's demands, the other
staunchly anti-EPRDF opposition group registered in these
elections, the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM),
reaffirmed its participation. Party leader Bulcha Demeksa
informed Poloff that his party officials met on April 9 to
discuss the matter of withdrawal, but in the end decided that
their original position of participation was the best
strategy. Though his party only has 180 candidates
registered, and has faced all the same issues that the UEDF
has during the run-up to the polling dates, Bulcha said that
it is important to the OFDM membership that they make a stand
and attempt to participate in the democratic process.

-----------------------------
NEB'S STATS PREDICT LANDSLIDE
-----------------------------

5. (SBU) On March 31, in response to demands from the donor
community, the NEB released party-by-party statistics on the
number of registered candidates for the upcoming elections.
As expected, the number of candidates is vastly in favor of
the ruling EPRDF. The only area in which the opposition
fielded a relevant number of candidates is for by-election
seats for the federal parliament. However, the seats will be
re-elected in 2010 and, even if the opposition is successful,
cannot overcome the EPRDF's majority in parliament.
Highlights from the statistics include:

-- 36 percent of the 181 candidates for federal parliamentary
seats are from the EPRDF, with the remainder from the
opposition or individual candidates. However, if including
the numerous opposition parties that are discredited and
perceived to have been co-opted by the EPRDF, this percentage
rises to 61 percent.

-- 62 percent of the 461 candidates for the Addis Ababa City
Council are from the EPRDF, with the remainder from
opposition or individual candidates. Again, when including
psuedo-opposition parties, this rises to 88 percent.

-- 99.4 percent of the 3,596,227 candidates for local
elections are from the EPRDF.

Notably, no opposition party had enough candidates to win any
of the approximately 30,000 kebele administrations. The UEDF

ADDIS ABAB 00001000 003.2 OF 003


is the only party that had enough candidates to win a
majority in any woreda (county), with Dr. Beyene estimating
that they had fielded enough candidates to potentially win
three or four of the approximately 600 woredas in the
country. No opposition party had enough candidates to win a
zone (district).

--------------------------------------------- ---
COMMENT: PULLOUT UNFORTUNATE, BUT UNDERSTANDABLE
--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (SBU) While it is unfortunate that the UEDF decided to
present an ultimatum to the NEB - which almost certainly will
lead to the UEDF withdrawal from the local elections - their
frustrations are understandable. Since the election season
began in January, the UEDF and other opposition parties have
faced numerous obstacles and challenges, most stemming from
unrelenting harassment and intimidation from the EPRDF. The
matter of election observation particularly has the sympathy
of the international community, as donors have long been
pressing the NEB to complete guidelines for domestic NGOs to
take part in observation. Unless they finally do so at the
11th hour, as the courts forced them to do in the 2005
elections, there will be no independent observation groups
overseeing these elections. When coupled with the NEB's
alleged appointment of EPRDF party members as "independent"
polling station observers throughout the country, it has
guaranteed that the potential number and validity of
opposition complaints will be extremely limited. The
statistics released by the NEB indicate that the opposition
has virtually no chance at any material gain in
representation at any level of government in these elections.
Whether through superior financing and coordination, or
through the wide-spread harassment of the opposition, the
EPRDF has ensured that it will have no threat to its
one-party rule during these local elections. The lack of
election observation ensures that no group will likely
criticize the election process, but at the same time it will
be impossible for anyone to say legitimately that the
elections were free and fair. END COMMENT.
YAMAMOTO

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