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Cablegate: Ecuador Elections, One Year Out

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

281734Z Nov 05




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: Quito 2235

1. (SBU) Summary: Presidential and congressional elections
are currently scheduled for October 2006, with a second
round the following month. President Palacio's efforts to
allow voters to decide by referendum between a
constitutional or a special national assembly to make
fundamental changes in institutions raises the possibility
of additional electoral activity during the year, and there
remains an outside chance that the regular 2006 elections
could be moved forward. But for now, we are proceeding on
the assumption that elections will be held as planned.
Although Ecuador has a tradition of well-run elections,
continuing political strains since the irregular change of
government in April merit special international attention
and assistance to assure free, fair, transparent and
inclusive elections.

2. (SBU) In keeping with our democracy promotion strategy
(RefTel) we have organized early to help target USG
electoral assistance. Initial thoughts on how best to do so
-- Monitor presidential campaigns for effects on USG
interests, and build relationships with major presidential
candidates and staffs;
--Focus USG pre-electoral assistance on promoting greater
public awareness of congressional candidates and election
-- Promote participation by vulnerable groups and encourage
candidates to focus on the interests of these groups;
-- Support OAS observation of the elections, including with
observation mission participation, while supporting local
civic organizations with proven capacities to monitor and
oversee the electoral process;
-- Let the OAS take the lead on technical assistance to the
electoral tribunal.
End Summary.

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The Presidential Field

3. (SBU) Ecuador's political landscape is deeply fractured,
and the rapid succession of political and economic crises of
the last few years has left voters jaded and skeptical of
the possibility for positive change. Most parties are
dominated by a strong leader or small coterie. They are
more pragmatic than ideological, seeking to advance their
leaders' political or economic interests. Most parties have
little internal democracy, a thin vertical structure, a
narrow regional base, and relatively few active members.
Unfortunately, given the current political situation, these
conditions are unlikely to change before the 2006 election.

4. (U) Given the state of the political parties, the
elections are likely to be focused more on personalities
than issues. Ecuador's media are part of the problem, as
they do little to help frame a positive agenda for the
politicians or hold government officials accountable. Polls
show that voters are most concerned about low wages and the
cost of living, unemployment, crime and security, health and
education. None of the parties or their leaders appear
ideologically or politically inclined to champion the
reforms needed to reduce corruption, increase
competitiveness, create jobs, improve civilian-military
relations or strengthen relations with the United States.
Recent history shows that populist appeals to the poor and
less educated majority is the best path toward election.

5. (SBU) Presidential candidates will not formally register
until July, but already several have declared their
intentions to seek party nominations. These are likely to
include a clutch of coastal-based candidates, including
independent former VP Leon Roldos (supported by the
Socialist Party), Alvaro Noboa (PRIAN), Jaime Damerval
(CFP), and the unnamed PSC and PRE candidates. In the
highlands, in addition to the unnamed ID candidate,
aspirants include Auki Tituana (Pachakutik) and populist
former Finance Minister Rafael Correa (also seeking
Pachakutik support). The nascent Bolivarian movement is
likely to put up a candidate, or support Correa.

6. (SBU) Notably absent at this early stage of the race are
candidates for the two largest parties (PSC and ID). Both
Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot (PSC) and Quito mayor Paco
Moncayo (ID) are very popular in their cities, but publicly
deny any intention to run in 2006. Around ten candidates
are likely to enroll in the first round of presidential
elections. Early polls show Roldos in front with 30%
support, followed by Noboa, with 15%, but the selection of
PSC and ID candidates is expected to alter the field

7. (SBU) A final wild card candidate worth mentioning is ex-
president Lucio Gutierrez, currently incarcerated in Quito
awaiting prosecution on charges of undermining Ecuador's
national security. Gutierrez claims Congress' move to
remove him was unconstitutional and that he should be
permitted to seek the presidency in 2006. Gutierrez is
likely to remain in jail until a new Supreme or
Constitutional Court can rule on his case sometime in 2006.
Although widely discredited with the middle classes and
elites, his ability to re-ignite some measure of populist
support cannot be entirely dismissed.

Electoral Timeline and Mechanics
8. (U) On July 16, 2006, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal
(TSE) will officially convoke the elections for October 15.
Candidates may register from July 16 through August 15.
Advertising campaigns cannot begin until August 29 and all
campaigning must stop on October 13. If, in this first
round, no presidential candidate wins at least 40% of the
vote with at least a ten-point lead over the next candidate,
or more than 50% of the vote, then a run-off between the top
two candidates will be scheduled for November 26. (Not since
1978, when elections resumed after two decades of military
rule, has a candidate won in the first round.) The new
president will be sworn in January 15, 2007. One hundred
provincial deputies will be elected to Congress. The new
Congress will be sworn in on January 5, for four years.
Voters will also elect half of the municipal and provincial
councilors, and Andean Parliamentarians; but mayors and
provincial prefects are not up for election until 2008.

9. (U) There are approximately nine million registered
voters in Ecuador. Voting is obligatory for citizens aged
18-65 years, and optional for senior citizens and
Ecuadorians living abroad (through Ecuador's consulates).
Military, police, and convicted criminals are excluded from
voting. Each of Ecuador's 22 provinces is entitled to at
least two deputies in Congress, plus an additional deputy
for every 200,000 inhabitants. Congressional deputies do
not represent individual districts, but their entire
province. At least half of the incumbent deputies are
expected to seek reelection. To do so, they must step down
July 16 and be replaced by their alternates. Leadership
positions in the new Congress will be determined based on
the 2006 election results.

10. (U) The TSE administers the voting and enforces the
campaign rules, including new spending limits. The TSE has
requested a $39.3 million budget for this year's elections.
The TSE's seven members are drawn from the political parties
represented in Congress according to the votes gained in the
last election. The TSE appoints provincial electoral
tribunals (TPE) for each of the 22 provinces. Their role is
to run the election in each province. In turn, each TPE
appoints a Voting Station Committee (JRV). The JRVs organize
the voting stations, distribute the voting slips, and
forward the uncounted votes and other official paperwork to
the TPE.

Other Donor Assistance

11. (U) To prepare for the 2006 elections the TSE and the
OAS are signing a new agreement that includes assistance to
implement electronic voting; to update the voter registry;
to implement the vote abroad; and to update security and
software. OAS assistance is likely to address most of the
TSE's technical needs for the 2006 elections, allowing us to

focus on other electoral support issues. Most other donors
are waiting for the results of the referendum effort and
possible political reforms before deciding how or if to
support the 2006 election process.

Embassy Electoral Strategy

12. (U) In October, a year away from elections, we formed a
mission-wide Election Working Group chaired by the DCM and
staffed by POL and USAID, with participation by PAS, DAO,
and AmConsulate Guayaquil. Initial discussion has focused
on how the government's reform proposals would affect the
2006 elections, and USG strategy to promote free and fair

13. (SBU) With the government's referendum proposal stuck
in Congress, chances have diminished for a national
constitutional or constituent assembly that could propose
structural reforms (e.g. bicameralism, moving congressional
elections to the second round, imposing primaries on
political parties, etc.). Congress has pledged to seek its
own reforms by consensus, beginning with a reduction in the
waiting period of one year between the two required debates
of constitutional changes that is currently mandated by the
constitution. There have been calls to create a new
electoral section of the Supreme Court to judge electoral
disputes, but structural change is unlikely to occur before
the 2006 elections. IRI is currently conducting political
party strengthening in Ecuador as part of a regional
project. After the election, we will consider sponsoring
training for newly elected officials on tools they will need
for effective and responsible performance (legislative
drafting, economic analysis of legislation, how to create a
responsible effective legislative staff, etc.).

TSE Assistance on the Back Burner


14. (SBU) Political uncertainties, Nethercutt restrictions,
OAS assistance already pledged, and the fact that election
administration has generally been adequate lessen the need
for USAID to provide direct support to the Supreme Electoral
Tribunal (TSE). The OAS's continued support to the TSE,
dating back to 1999, has the advantage of offering an
"international umbrella" to resolve problems within the
institution. Leftover funds in the USAID agreement with the
international electoral NGO "CAPEL" (less than $100K), along
with some $200K of FY 04 funds, could be used to help the
TSE provide electoral training, establish a training unit or

expand public outreach.

Monitor, Don't Invest In, Presidential Elections
--------------------------------------------- ---

15. (SBU) Given the political sensitivities related to USG
involvement in elections at the presidential level and the
likelihood that political parties will nominate their party
heads in a predictably non-democratic fashion, it would be
neither politically wise nor programmatically effective to
invest significant USAID resources in public presidential
debates or other high-profile activities. The Ambassador
and other Embassy sections will nevertheless conduct
outreach to all major candidates and their teams in the run-
up to elections, offering dialogue on bilateral issues. We
will also consider encouraging one or both run-off
candidates to visit the U.S. at some point, as ex-President
Gutierrez did in 2002.

Focus Resources on Promoting Greater Public Awareness
--------------------------------------------- --------

16. (SBU) Improving the performance of Congress is critical
to creating an effective legislature in Ecuador and to
establishing the checks and balances required to create a
truly democratic state in Ecuador. Focusing USG efforts on
promoting voter education and public awareness about
congressional candidates could help encourage Ecuadorians to
elect more effective and responsible representatives. To
this end, USAID will support the Ecuadorian NGO "Citizen
Participation" in its efforts to promote voter education,
congressional candidate debates, campaign expense
monitoring, quick counts, and domestic monitoring.
Publicizing compliance with campaign finance disclosure
rules and promoting citizen scrutiny of these submissions
would also promote anti-corruption goals. A similar
strategy worked well during the 2004 local elections, but we
will closely monitor perceptions adapt our strategy to
minimize the chances of USG assistance becoming an issue in
congressional races.

17. (SBU) To help instill a culture of electoral
participation and family discussion of national issues, PAS
plans to support another Ecuadorian NGO that is organizing
mock youth elections on general issues prior to the actual
election. More broadly, we hope to help promote democratic
stability by encouraging voters to know the candidates
better, to encourage acceptance of elected representatives
(including the president) for the full term for which they
have been elected, barring criminal misdeeds. To do so, we
will consider promoting issue-debates of interest to the
electorate, sponsoring U.S. speakers or issue polling, and
possibly supporting the publication of the voting records of
the candidates that have already held office, if available.
To encourage sound economic policies, we will consider
sponsoring forums for candidates to participate in to
discuss economic issues/policies.

Promote Participation by Vulnerable Groups

18. (SBU) USAID is already providing small grants to
Ecuadorian organizations that have promoted voting and voter
awareness by indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian groups and could
provide more as elections approach. In addition, the
Department (DRL) has awarded a $300,000 grant to the
international NGO IFES to promote electoral participation by
Afro-Ecuadorian groups.

19. (SBU) Twelve percent of the total Ecuadorian population
suffers from some type of disability. Although most voting
booths are not accessible to the physically disabled,
election officials have typically brought the ballots
outside the booth to the individual so that they can vote.
The blind have typically been allowed to have a
relative/companion assist them in voting. The main issue
for the disabled is getting to the polls, rather than
getting inside. Public transportation is not accessible to
the physically disabled and few have access to modified
vehicles. The USG can help make the elections more
inclusive by working with others to provide transportation
to the voting centers.

Mission Election Observation

20. (SBU) Ecuador in general and the TSE in particular have
the reputation of being able to hold and administer free and
fair elections, but we continue to believe OAS election
observation is critical to guarantee electoral legitimacy.
Local civic organizations also have proven capacities to
monitor and oversee the electoral process, including through
quick counts and overseeing campaign spending. Given this
existing local capacity, only unforeseen circumstances would
justify mobilizing international observers beyond the OAS
effort. To the extent feasible, the USG should mount its
own election observation efforts, including:

-- Reach out to vulnerable groups to ensure the elections
are inclusive. Monitor transportation efforts on election
-- Attend congressional debates throughout the country.
-- Participate in workshops where candidate disclosure
compliance is discussed
-- Observe voting in voting booths and the vote tally under
the auspices of the OAS mission.

How would we measure success?

21. (SBU) Our political interests include working with any
eventual president, and preventing further irregular changes
of president. The next government's credibility will depend
on whether it achieves its electoral promises. Its initial
democratic legitimacy, however, will depend on the fairness
and voter participation rates in the election. In other
countries, voter registration and turnout are typically used
to measure whether the elections were successful. In the
case of Ecuador, however, voting is mandatory, and sanctions
are incurred if people do not vote, and certification of
voting is need to access a wide range of government
services. To measure voter interest, it is more useful to
compare the number of blank and invalid ballots with those
of past years.

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