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Cablegate: Preparing for Ecuadorian Elections October

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 QUITO 002449

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM KCOR PREL EC
SUBJECT: PREPARING FOR ECUADORIAN ELECTIONS OCTOBER
17--REQUEST FOR USG SUPPORT FOR OAS MISSION

REF: A. QUITO 2251
B. QUITO 2076

1. (SBU) Summary: Ecuador's upcoming local elections are an
indirect test of the Gutierrez Administration's strength (it
is widely expected to fail that test) and, more importantly,
an opportunity for Ecuadorian voters to renew their faith in
the democratic process. President Gutierrez' Patriotic
Society Party (PSP) is expected to suffer a humiliating
defeat to opposition incumbents in key races. Although there
are few hints or recent history of fraud in local elections,
a political crisis is developing over the President,s
flirtation with the opposition Ecuadorian Roldosista Party
(PRE) of disgraced ex-President Abdala Bucaram. A clean
election likely will increase the longstanding disparity
between public confidence in local versus national political
leaders, as re-elected incumbents enjoy greater public trust
than the President. It could also help renew confidence in
democracy, if only at the local level. Given the importance
to political stability of clean elections, Embassy recommends
USG support for an OAS monitoring effort, which we hope to
join on election day.

What is at Stake?
-----------------

2. (SBU) AID democratic values surveys consistently show
voter confidence in politicians and democratic institutions
to be higher at the local than national level. Mayors of
larger cities currently enjoy high approval ratings as a
result of concerted emphasis on infrastructure improvements.
Quito Mayor Paco Moncayo recently told PolOffs that major
city mayors from a variety of opposition parties have been
meeting to share lessons learned, and comprise a new
municipal movement of competent, proven leaders. With
confidence in the Gutierrez government nearing single digits,
the opportunity to re-elect popular opposition mayors and
provincial prefects on October 17 could help reinforce public
confidence in electoral politics, indirectly benefiting the
embattled national government. However, to have this effect,
the elections must be generally perceived as clean and
well-run.

3. (SBU) President Gutierrez' PSP has been marginalized at
the national level since the departure of its broad-based
coalition; it now has only five of 100 Congressional deputies
and no mayors. The PSP will lose its national registry if it
fails to win more than 5% of the national vote for the second
straight time, as expected. (Note: on its own, the party
failed to win more than 5% of the vote in 2002, despite
Gutierrez victory of the presidency with the support of
several allied parties. The PSP currently holds no
mayorships, since the party was formed after the last
municipal elections in 2000.) Nevertheless, President
Gutierrez has been actively visiting (and distributing public
largesse in) areas in the Amazon region and selectively in
some Sierra districts where the PSP hopes to gain in these
elections.

4. (SBU) The key races among the 219 municipal and 22
prefectural posts (U.S.-governor-equivilents) up for election
on October 17 are for the Guayaquil and Quito mayorships and
the prefect races in Guayas and Pichincha provinces. In both
cases, the mayoral incumbents (Jaime Nebot of the Social
Christian Party (PSC) and Moncayo for the Democratic Left
Party (ID), respectively) are expected to win handily (Nebot
has the highest popularity ratings of any politician in the
country); their prefectural counterparts are also favored to
win by lesser margins over non-incumbent challengers. There
is another reason to pay special attention to the race in
Guayas province: there were unsubstantiated allegations of
fraud by challengers in the 2000 election of Nebot and PSC
Guayas prefect Nicolas Lapentti. The Manta mayor race is
also of interest for its potential impact on the Manta FOB.

Election Preparations Underway
------------------------------

5. (SBU) OAS Representative Dr. Cesar Ocampo told PolCouns on
August 24 that the GoE ratified a formal request from the
Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) requesting the OAS to send
an observation mission for the municipal elections. Although
the OAS has not made a decision, Ocampo believed that it
would be positive and that the bulk of the mission would be
comprised of accredited staff and diplomat volunteers in
Ecuador. He characterized Ecuadorian electoral authorities
as "politicized but competent" and said expectations of
electoral fraud are low for election day. Ocampo said he had
offered his own good offices to help resolve lingering
controversies over campaign financing and allocation of
municipal council seats (RefTels), as he had in the past to
promote indigenous representation.

6. (SBU) The elections will be administered by the Supreme
Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which is comprised of seven members
representing some of the major political parties in Congress.
Seven alternates are appointed on the same basis. The TSE
appoints provincial electoral tribunals in each of the 22
provinces, which in turn appoint municipal level tribunals.
The political parties are represented at each level. TSE
President Nicanor Moscoso, himself the former campaign
manager of the National Institutional Action Renewal Party
(PRIAN) confirmed to PolCouns on August 31 that the GoE has
invited the OAS to observe the upcoming elections. He
downplayed concerns about possible fraud in the Guayas
prefect race, saying the issues raised during the last
election have been dealt with through subsequent reforms. He
said the TSE had contracted a credible Spanish firm to manage
the vote count, a small sample of which will be tallied
electronically.

7. (SBU) What concerned the TSE president more was
resistance on the part of the PSC and the ID parties to
needed increases in official campaign finance limits. By
blocking Congressional action to raise the limits, these two
parties have maintained hypocritically low limits for
election expenses ($600,000 for all prefect and municipal
races, combined, including highs of $44,000 and $40,000 for
the Guayaquil and Quito mayor races, respectively). The
motive for the resistance of these two parties to higher
spending limits is self-serving, according to Moscoso. Both
presume they can effectively block any effort to investigate
their own spending due to their preponderant weight within
the TSE's deliberative structure. Smaller parties do not
enjoy that assurance and will be vulnerable to future
investigation for overspending.

8. (SBU) Another issue of concern to Moscoso is the system
to proportionally allocate municipal council seats among
parties. In this, he said, the TSE has the power to act
Congress does not. Moscoso said he was consulting with the
parties and intended to announce the system later this month.


USG Assistance
--------------

9. (U) AID is providing $800,000 in election-related
support, roughly divided between support to the TSE
administered through the Center for Electoral Promotion and
Assistance (CAPEL) and the other half to NGOs for civil
society oversight of the elections. The latter includes a
civic education campaign, electoral reforms, efforts to
monitor campaign spending, domestic observation of the
elections and an independent quick count. Funding is being
provided to NGOs for election dialogues and candidate fora.
AID is coordinating election support efforts with other
Embassy elements and with other donors, including the OAS,
UNDP, German aid agency (GTZ) and the EU.

10. (U) Should an OAS mission be mounted, the Embassy will
volunteer a core group of officers to participate in the
monitoring effort. We will also conduct and report on
pre-electoral visits to key districts to report on specific
races.

Comment
-------

11. (SBU) Given the potential for these municipal elections
to affect political stability and confidence in democracy, we
believe close international observation is justified. The
obvious institution to boost electoral certainty and
confidence on election day is the OAS. We therefore request
USG support for an OAS monitoring mission.
KENNEY

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