Search

 

Cablegate: Elections Herald 8: A Tale of Two Turnouts

VZCZCXRO0361
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #1065/01 1080640
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 170640Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0325
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEWMFD/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 ADDIS ABABA 001065

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV ET
SUBJECT: ELECTIONS HERALD 8: A TALE OF TWO TURNOUTS

REF: ADDIS 1000 (AND PREVIOUS)

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Ethiopia voted on April 13 in the first round of
local elections. With only a handful of unknown or
apparently-partisan domestic election observer
organizations authorized by the National Electoral Board
(NEB) and a pointed statement to diplomats and foreigners
not to loiter or linger around polling stations, the world's
perception of these elections is effectively limited to the
Ethiopian Government's reports and spin with no ability to
confirm or prove wrong allegations of malfeasance. But with
so few opposition candidates able to run, the result of the
election was not in doubt. Despite restrictions, Mission
personnel did observe approximately 25 polling stations, as
well as street dynamics, around Addis Ababa. In stark
contrast to the NEB's claim of over 95 percent voter turnout,
Post's first hand snapshots of round one voting suggest an
abysmal turnout and overwhelming voter malaise in the
capital city. Restrictions on observation preclude Post
from any independent assessment of rural polling dynamics.
End Summary.

ELECTION OBSERVERS: LARRY, MOE, CURLY - YES, BUT NOT CARTER
--------------------------------------------- --------------

2. (SBU) After months of pressure by the diplomatic community
the NEB finally released directives for how domestic
organizations can request to observe elections on February 29.
Two reputable organizations who took leading roles in past
election observation efforts, the Organization for Social
Justice in Ethiopia (OSJE) and the Action Professionals'
Association for the People (APAP), chose not to even request
permission to observe the elections due to a lack of
confidence in the process, according to officials who informed
us in private. While the NEB has declined to report how many
organizations applied to observe, they did approve -- through
private responses to the petitioners and without any public
release -- eleven domestic organizations. While the NEB's
failure to respond to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council's
(EHRCO) request to observe kept this reputable organization
indoors on polling day, the eleven approved organizations
are overwhelmingly small, unheard-of groups or organizations
known to maintain strong, close ties to the government with
little or no experience in election observation. The eleven
approved domestic observation organizations are:

--Union of Victims of the Derg Regime and Family Members: A
well known organization working closely with the Ethiopian
Government (GoE) to support the prosecution of Derg leaders,

--Martyrs Monument Building Association: An organization
which works closely with the Union of Victims of the Derg
Regime which focuses on building monuments around the
country to the valor of those opposed to the previous regime,

--South Ethiopia Nations and Nationalities Regional
Government Legal Professional Association: A civic
association active in the south with no previous election
observation record,

--SNNPRS Youth Association - Addis Ababa Chapter; Amhara
Region Youth Association -- Addis Ababa Chapter: These youth
associations are normally supported by local governments or
the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports with no previous
election observation experience,

--Scholars Association for Development; Initiative for
Human Development: Two newly formed organizations with
no previous election observation experience or track-
record otherwise,

--Addis Ababa Islamic Affairs Supreme Council: Generally
perceived as working closely with the government, the
Council oversees Islamic affairs in the capital and
participated in observing the 2005 elections,

--Ra-iy Ethiopia Association: A small NGO engaged in
women's and children's issues and HIV projects,

--Wegegta Reproductive Health and Anti-AIDS Association:

ADDIS ABAB 00001065 002 OF 004


A first time election observer group normally engaged in
reproductive health and HIV/AIDS activities,

--Tinsae Ethiopia Association: A never before heard of
organization.

3. (SBU) According to the Dutch Ambassador, Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi informed the Dutch and Japanese Ambassadors,
chair and vice chair respectively of the "Ethiopia Partners
Group" of ambassadors, on March 28 that no international
observers would be invited to monitor these elections and
foreign diplomats would not be allowed to enter polling
stations or stay in their vicinity. The Prime Minister
noted that "there is no added value" for diplomats to visit
polling stations, as all information on the elections,
procedures, infrastructure, etc. could be obtained by
talking to Ethiopian citizens.

WHAT IF THEY HOLD AND ELECTION AND NOBODY COMES?
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. (SBU) The prevailing public sentiment around Addis Ababa
throughout the electoral process has been one of resignation
and malaise. While the NEB had claimed to register 1.1
million voters in Addis Ababa, many on the street had
detailed persuasion tactics, applied particularly against
women and the poor, threatening the withholding of local
government administered public services unless individuals
registered to vote. Obvious voter and public turnout on
election day was consistent with this. Director of the
State Department's Office of East African Affairs James
Knight, P/E Chief, and Political Specialist conducted a
windshield tour of Addis Ababa's diverse neighborhoods to
glean election day dynamics within the Prime Minister's
rigid parameters. Other mission personnel conducted
similar reviews.

5. (SBU) While people were out and about throughout the
capital city, the numbers of vehicles on the road and the
number of people going about their daily business was
notably less than any average Sunday morning. Throughout
Addis, polling stations opened uniformly one hour late.
Popular speculation argues that this move was an effort
to allow voters' queues to grow to present a photo op of
robust voter turnout. Whether or not this hypothesis is
accurate, long lines were as notably absent from the
capital's streets at opening time as they were throughout
the day. Of the approximately 25 polling stations visited
by Mission personnel, only two had notable numbers of
people. In the only polling station exhibiting any sort
of line, roughly twenty people -- almost all women -- were
seen. Mission personnel also observed approximately 10-15
individuals at various stages of entering, exiting, and
lingering at one other polling station, this in the capital
city's largely-Tigrean neighborhoods. This latter polling
station was the only polling station to have a mobile
police unit parked outside in addition to the standard
four-to-five police officers manning polling station
entrances.

6. (SBU) Among the other polling stations visited, the
only people present at ten of these were police, without
any apparent civilians or voters. Among the other polling
stations visited, on average only two-to-three voters were
ever seen. The police presence at these polling stations
ranged from three to seven. Two polling stations were so
quiet that even the police manning the entrance were
having their shoes polished. According to long-term Addis
Ababa residents, not only was the public turnout at
polling stations and on the streets dramatically lower
than the strong 2005 turnout, but it was also notably less
than even the more modest turnouts for the 2000 national,
and 2004 local elections. Contacts at other embassies
report similar findings from their reviews of election day.

GOE: TURNOUT IS ROBUST
----------------------

7. (SBU) While the public turnout observed mirrored the
notable absence of public excitement on the streets of
Addis Ababa, the NEB's reports of voter turnout provided
a stark contrast. Two hours before polling stations
closed, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) quoted

ADDIS ABAB 00001065 003 OF 004


the NEB Chairman Dr. Merga's report that 93 percent of
the registered voters nationwide had voted. In an
attempt to support these claims of high turnout,
Ethiopian Television ran file footage of very long lines
of anxious voters waiting outside of polling stations --
from the 2005 national elections. Upon the conclusion
of voting, ENA quoted Dr. Merga's statistic that 95
percent of the 26 million registered voters had done
their civic duty. The Foreign Ministry on April 14 told
P/E Chief that voter turnout in Addis was likely a bit
lower, estimated around 85 percent. In response to P/E
Chief's mention of the absence of queues, limited
numbers, and reduced level of people on the streets,
MFA's Director for the Americas explained these
observations away by noting that the number of polling
stations had increased from previous elections, so there
is little reason why people would have to wait in line,
and thus, no lines to be observed.

8. (SBU) A cursory review of the statistics posted at
polling stations after the elections suggests a far cry,
at least in Addis Ababa, from the 95 percent voter turnout.
With each polling station designed to accommodate
approximately 1,000 voters, one would expect a total of
around 950 votes cast at each polling station. In a
random sample of five polling stations, however, the total
number of votes cast for all candidates vying were: 60,
247, 117, 627, and 418. Assuming that these polling
stations were to accommodate 1,000 voters, these levels
would suggest 6, 25, 12, 63, and 42 percent voter turnout
respectively. If the NEB's claimed 95 percent turnout is
accurate, however, these vote totals suggest a massive
number of spoiled ballots or protest votes against the
election process (a strategy that several opposition
supporters had earlier pledged to invoke).

OPPOSITION DYNAMICS
-------------------

9. (SBU) With opposition parties able to register
candidates for only four-tenths of one percent of the
contested seats and the largest opposition party
boycotting the elections, Post expected minimal actual
election day malfeasance. The largest remaining
opposition party, the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement
(OFDM), however, reported that several of its party's
election observers were beaten to dissuade them from
observing polling station activities. Initial polling
station results suggest that despite winning large
margins in the 2005 elections not a single OFDM candidate
won in these same constituencies on April 13. The United
Ethiopian Democratic Forces' (UEDF) Beyene Petros reported
that despite having announced its boycott of the elections
on April 10, UEDF intended candidates still encountered
police at their houses on election day telling them not to
go outside. Even the small Afar Liberation Front reported
that 15 of its party's candidates and 20 party election
observers were arrested on the morning of the election.

COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) The most dramatic source of public animosity
toward the government and ruling party is focused around
Addis Ababa's City Hall, where in 2005 the opposition won
137 out of 138 seats and the Mayorship. This time,
between the impediments to opposition party candidate
registration and the boycott of the elections which
alleged intimidation tactics prompted, the ruling EPRDF
looks poised to take the overwhelming majority, if not
all, of the city council seats.

11. (SBU) Unable to directly observe election day dynamics,
or even to mingle outside of polling stations, Ethiopia's
resident diplomatic community's ability to assess the
integrity of the April 13 elections (and coming round two,
kebele level elections on April 20) is severely hampered.
Nevertheless, the direct observations of election day
atmospherics are equally as dissonant with the NEB and
GoE's reports as have been the opposition's allegations
of harassment and intimidation from the GoE's explanation
of these throughout the 2008 electoral process. The
challenge facing the United States and the international

ADDIS ABAB 00001065 004 OF 004


community is to convince the GoE and ruling party to ease
both its iron fisted grip on political space and
impediments to credible, neutral verification of the
political environment to regain public confidence in the
democratic process before public frustration and anger
erupts into insecurity. The Ambassador and Post firmly
believe that we must begin now to lay the groundwork for
opening political space in advance of the 2010 national
elections or face the potential violence that sustained
harassment and intimidation risks spurring. Current
ethnic and internal political dynamics suggest that an
outbreak of political violence in Ethiopia will
significantly surpass Ethiopia's post-election violence
of 2005 as well as that in Kenya more recently, and
place in jeopardy our national interests in Ethiopia and
the Horn of Africa. The Embassy will lay out a game-plan
for how to move this forward in coming reports. End
Comment.
YAMAMOTO

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>

ALSO:

Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>

ALSO: