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Cablegate: Electoral Reform and the Inec Seminar

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002150

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PREL NI
SUBJECT: Electoral Reform and the INEC Seminar

REF: ABUJA 1975

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, NOT FOR PUBLICATION ON THE
INTERNET OR INTRANET

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Summary: The INEC Seminar November 27-28
(septel) highlighted important divisions on possible
electoral reforms. There were several less-than-
serious ideas bruited, but the more important reform
proposals basically present a choice for the future
between the Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC) becoming more independent or becoming more of an
instrument of the government against the opposition.
Various Nigerians representing different institutions
took different positions on the four most important
issues -- INEC independence, INEC's Commissioners de-
registering political parties, INEC's Commissioners
overruling Returning Officers on election results, and
INEC holding the local government elections skipped in
April 2003.

2. (SBU) President Obasanjo pushed hard for giving new
power to the INEC Commissioners, whom he chose. INEC
Chairman Guobadia pushed for independent funding and
independent mention in the Constitution for INEC,
although he stopped well short of backing Transition
Monitoring Group Chairman Okoye and the opposition on
re-establishing that the Commissioners themselves be
independents or that they should be chosen in a process
that includes the opposition. Guobadia voiced a need
to regulate political parties, although he did not go
so far as to join Obasanjo in advocating that INEC de-
register them. The INEC Chairman agreed with Okoye and
the opposition against INEC Commissioners overruling
Returning Officers, although INEC's paper said erring
Returning Officers should be punished. Guobadia said
nothing about local elections in his speech, but his
staff worked with Okoye to put a call in the seminar
statement for local elections to be held by March 31,
2004. End Summary.

3. (SBU) INEC hosted a seminar November 27-28 to
discuss possible electoral reforms. The four issues
above have been under discussion across the political
spectrum for months (reftel). There were also
proposals, such as INEC taking over voter education,
that clearly had resonance with those who would benefit
-- such as INEC's staff -- but are more constrained by
lack of funds than opposed by anyone. Some of the
other ideas expressed, such as proportional
representation vs. Nigeria's first-past-the-post
system, have more resonance among foreign consultants
than among Nigerians.

----------------------------------
DE-REGULATION OF POLITICAL PARTIES
----------------------------------

4. (SBU) Each of the four central issues took more
shape during the seminar presentations than they had
previously. President Obasanjo pressed strongly for
INEC Commissioners to be given the power to de-regulate
political parties, and went beyond INEC Commissioner
Iwu's earlier proposal (reftel) by elaborating four
grounds on which INEC should de-register "erring"
political parties:

-- parties that fail to perform the basic functions of
aggregating, articulating and representing social
concerns;

-- parties which exist only to collect grants from the
government;

-- parties which fail to submit to the basic demands
for accountability and transparency;

-- parties which fail to achieve an acceptable minimum
of impact during elections.

5. (SBU) INEC said specific breaches by political
parties "need to be sanctioned," but did not go so far
as to say the sanction should include de-registration,
nor that INEC should be the instrument to decide which
parties should be de-registered. INEC listed five
grounds for parties to be "sanctioned:"

-- failure to submit to requirement of accountability
and transparency;
-- failure to field any candidate during general
elections;
-- failure to win 5 percent of the vote at any general
election;

-- existence of severe intra-party disputes;

-- failure to maintain and operate at least an office
in the Capital Territory (Abuja).

6. COMMENT: There are good arguments in Nigeria for
cutting federal campaign funds -- as we do in the U.S.
-- to parties that do not gain a minimum percentage of
the vote, but the U.S. cutoff is based on mathematical,
not subjective, criteria and administered by an
impartial body. Giving a less than impartial INEC
power to de-register (not only reduce funding to)
political parties on several highly subjective grounds
would be extremely problematic for democracy in
Nigeria. End Comment.

------------------
RETURNING OFFICERS
------------------

7. The issue of vote tallies being changed from what
polling stations returned to what was finally announced
at regional, state and federal INEC headquarters is a
point of contention in the ongoing Buhari suit against
Obasanjo's election. Allowing INEC Commissioners to
overrule the Returning Officers, as proposed by INEC
Commissioner Iwu (reftel), was opposed by all of the
civil society and opposition speakers at the INEC
seminar. INEC Chairman Guobadia said that challenging
the Returning Officers' tallies should be left to the
judicial system, although he darkly threatened that
"there may be a need to legislate punishment for
returning officers and other polling officials who
willfully subvert the rules guiding the declaration of
results. Obasanjo did not mention the idea of INEC
Commissioners overruling Returning Officers on election
results, and the idea may be dropped or on hold.

--------------------------
LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS
--------------------------

8. Neither President Obasanjo nor INEC Chairman
Guobadia mentioned the local government elections,
required by the Constitution but skipped in April 2003.
TMG Chairman Okoye and other speakers were insistent,
however, and the INEC staff put in the seminar's
statement that local government elections must be held
before March 31, 2004.

-----------------
INEC INDEPENDENCE
-----------------

9. While Guobadia did say that the issue of how INEC
officials are appointed needs to be addressed, he was
much clearer in calling for independent funding of INEC
outside the Executive Branch and for a new provision to
be added to the Constitution that "INEC shall not be
subject to the direction or control of any person or
authority." TMG Chairman Okoye went much further,
demanding that the appointment of Commissioners be made
non-partisan, and the Commission should have
representation from labor, professional associations,
the private sector, and human rights/pro-democracy
NGOs. The opposition has long claimed the 12 INEC
Commissioners are not independent of President
Obasanjo.

-------------
RISING ISSUES
-------------

10. President Obasanjo interestingly complained that
money distorts Nigeria's political process, and
specifically called for reducing the GON's expenditure
on elections. Most observers did not see this as a
response to Guobadia's call for independent funding,
but rather a response to a rising revulsion at the role
of money in Nigeria's politics. Several later speakers
called for reform of campaign financing, and specific
proposals in the future may bring this issue to the
fore. Another rising issue was the role of ad hoc INEC
staff being hired for election day from supporters of
candidates, political parties or political
"godfathers," and INEC has already announced in
response that no ad hoc staff will be hired for the
Abuja FCT Senatorial by-election later this month.
MEECE

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