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Cablegate: Elections in Ecuador: The Role of the Military

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 002723

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM MOPS PGOV PHUM EC
SUBJECT: ELECTIONS IN ECUADOR: THE ROLE OF THE MILITARY

REF: A. QUITO 2449

B. 02 QUITO 3085

1. This cable is an update of Ref B, transmitted in
September 2002, just prior to Ecuador's most recent national
elections.

2. SUMMARY: Although soldiers, sailors and airmen (and
police) cannot vote, the military nonetheless will play a
prominent part in Ecuador's October 17 local elections.
Printing the ballots, securing the voting stations, and
delivering results to Quito are just a few of its logistical
responsibilities; 35,000 military will take part in the
electoral effort. Despite perceptions that the military
supports the Gutierrez government and recent declines in
public approval ratings, the armed forces remain an admired
institution in Ecuador, and their visibility on election day
both inspires public confidence and helps ensure a free and
fair vote. END SUMMARY.

3. Ecuador's 1998 constitution bars active duty military
(and police) from casting ballots. The armed forces'
electoral role is robust, however, before, on, and after
election day. As the only GoE institution with truly
national reach, the military has assumed duties, from
printing the ballots to transporting them for final
tabulation, handled in most democracies by civilian
organizations.

-------------------
Pre-vote Activities
-------------------

4. In 2002, Carlos Aguinaga, then-president (and current
member) of Ecuador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE),
provided a review of the military's electoral
responsibilities that remains accurate today. Aguinaga noted
the Ecuadorian public had deep faith in and admiration for
the armed forces. They historically have provided logistical
support for elections, and the TSE in 2002 signed an
agreement with the Ministry of Defense that expanded even
further the armed forces' role.

5. The Ecuadorian Army's Institute of Military Geography
(IGM) just finished printing 36 million paper ballots needed
for the upcoming October 17 contests (Ecuador's 8 million
voters will elect governor-equivalents, mayors, provincial
councils, city councils, and some rural councils, using
separate ballots for each). When asked in 2002 if private
firms had been able to bid on this seemingly lucrative
contract, Aguinaga chuckled and recounted the mistake
electoral authorities had made in 1996, when they contracted
the task to the private sector. Protesters and/or vandals
had breached the company's weak security and torched the
just-printed ballots, causing major havoc in the
pre-elections timetable. Aguinaga asserted the TSE would not
repeat its earlier mistake, and was generally satisfied with
IGM's performance.

6. In a recent meeting to discuss the TSE's voter education
campaign in advance of the 2004 vote, Tribunal training
expert Ana Patino praised the military's professionalism in a
task outside its core mission. Under an accord signed
earlier this year, the TSE trained the armed forces in
electoral materials distribution/collection and precinct
security. Patino claimed the TSE's education of the armed
forces had proceeded far more smoothly than its training of
civilian poll workers. Press accounts note the first of 13
Army-orchestrated election materials deliveries will occur on
October 8, with all of Ecuador's 22 provinces receiving
materials well in advance of the vote. The logistics then
get tougher, as the military must transport the electoral
kits to all of Ecuador's 35,000 voting stations; nonetheless,
Patino was confident the military would mount a successful
operation.

-----------------------
Election Day Operations
-----------------------

7. The armed forces and Ecuadorian National Police will also
provide security on election day, the military standing guard
inside the voting places, the police patrolling the
perimeters. Should a member of the armed forces security
contingent suspect wrongdoing at the voting stations, he/she
is empowered to temporarily halt the voting and/or vote
counting and request that the precinct's civilian coordinator
investigate and rectify the situation. Once the polls have
closed and the election workers have tallied the votes, the
military will transport copies of the tally sheets to the TSE
and the provincial electoral tribunals.
--------
COMMENT:
--------

7. The armed forces play a vital role in Ecuadorian
elections, as the only institution capable of handling
logistical support and security nationwide. But they provide
more than printing presses, trucks, and hired muscle.
Respected analysts argue that the Army's involvement in
elections, rather than provoking suspicions of fraud or
intimidation among voters, in fact reassures the public of
the process's probity. Unlike in neighboring countries,
election day violence is rare in Ecuador, thanks in part to
the military's visible presence.
CHACON

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