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Cablegate: Ethiopia: Lively Debate On Meles' "State of The

VZCZCXYZ0030
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDS #4182/01 3561129
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 221129Z DEC 05
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8379
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS ADDIS ABABA 004182

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF DAS YAMAMOTO AND AF/E

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM KJUS ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: LIVELY DEBATE ON MELES' "STATE OF THE
UNION"

REF: ADDIS ABABA 4073

1. (U) SUMMARY. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
addressed Parliament December 13 on the impending prosecution
of CUD opposition party members, a newly established
commission set to probe the June and December violence,
Ethiopia's commitment to pull military forces away from the
border with Eritrea, and the temporary EPRDF administration
of Addis Ababa City. Acknowledging that the government was
preoccupied with bringing "CUD violent hardliners" to justice
and investigating its own actions in June and December, the
Prime Minister admitted little progress had been made
recently on other issues, such as parliamentary, electoral,
civil service, justice and budget reforms.

2. (U) Replying to the Prime Minister's presentation,
opposition party leaders questioned Meles' report. UEDF
President Dr. Beyene Petros called Meles' parliamentary
reform program weak on details and criticized the lack of
bipartisan cooperation. OFDM leader Bulcha Demeksa said the
Prime Minister has prematurely determined who was responsible
for this year's electoral-related violence, despite the fact
that the inquiry commission had yet to publish its findings.
All of the opposition MPs questioned Meles' intentions for
permanent administration of the Addis Ababa city government.
Opposition MPs contend that as the CUD won the election, it
should administer the city. Meles replied that the city
government had been appointed for a temporary period in the
expectation that the opposition would agree to assume control
of the city, since they had not done so the government must
now decide what to do vis-a-via a permanent solution. END
SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------
MELES: GOVERNMENT FOCUSED ON CUD AND BORDER
--------------------------------------------

3. (U) Meles announced that the ruling EPRDF coalition was
ready to engage in dialogue with opposition parties, but
singled out the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) as
one party with whom dialogue was not possible because its
"violent leaders" were accused of illegal activities. To
those CUD members not already in detention (septel), but
interested in political dialogue, Meles offered two choices:
condemn the illegal activities of CUD and respect the
constitution; or face legal action from the government if
illegal activities continue. The Prime Minister noted that
some members of the CUD had shown a desire to work outside
the umbrella of their party. Meles indicated that out of the
109 CUD representatives elected for the House of People's
Representatives, no less than 66 had joined the Parliament.

4. (U) Meles noted that many had complained that the
security forces used excessive force to quell the
electoral-related violence in June and November. He
indicated the government had started the investigation
process by establishing a "free and neutral" inquiry
commission (reftel). Meles said he stands ready to implement
any decision that comes out of the inquiry commission's final
investigation. The Prime Minister argued that the government
had successfully defended the rule of law in the face of
efforts to overthrow the government.

5. (U) With regard to the Ethiopia-Eritrea border issue,
Meles contended that the Eritrean government had taken
measures to aggravate the tense situation and was "beating
the war drum." The only way to avoid war, Meles concluded,
was to build up Ethiopia's military force in hopes of
deterring the Eritrean government from conflict. Ethiopia
would, however, comply with United Nations Security Council
resolution 1640 to move Ethiopia's defense forces to
positions held last December. The government remained
committed to resolving the border issue with hopes of
sustainable peace, he said, but labeled the Ethiopia-Eritrea
Boundary Commission decisions "wrong."

6. (U) While Meles argued that residents of Addis Ababa
should be governed by a party they elected (the CUD), he
blamed the CUD for failing to take responsibility for
administration. In the CUD's absence, Meles said that the
provisional administration should remain in power, but he
would devise a permanent solution with the next month.

7. (U) Meles acknowledged that parliamentary and electoral
reform may be necessary and that the government should take

action. Accordingly, he said he had authorized Parliament to
hire external professionals to compare the code of conduct
and operational procedure with those of experienced
democracies, such as Canada, Germany, India and Great
Britain. The Prime Minister hoped to identify and correct
processes and procedures that were "less democratic" and that
restricted the role of the opposition. With regard to the
electoral process, Meles admitted that a considerable problem
of "executive capacity" existed, but said the government had
taken various measures to resolve these problems. For
example, the National Electoral Board (NEB) has hired foreign
consultants to examine the previous election and provide
capacity-building. Other reforms in the civil service,
justice and budgetary spheres had made little progress
because of the GOE's preoccupation with the election and
related violence.

8. (U) According to Meles, mass media plays an irreplaceable
role in building a democratic system. While he believed the
state media played a constructive role during the election
campaign, the opposition parties raised complaints regarding
media utilization after the election. Meles said he would
investigate these complaints, but argued the private media
had proven to be a tool for violence and upheaval. The Prime
Minister planned on establishing a legal framework and
creating a strong accountability system to better isolate any
illegal activities, likely to address the concern that
independent press not promulgate what the Government
considers hate speech.

------------------------------------------
MELES LISTENS AS OPPOSITION MAKES ITS CASE
------------------------------------------

9. (U) Immediately following the Prime Minister's speech,
opposition party members took the floor to debate the merits
of Meles' comments. Opposition members of Parliament
welcomed the Prime Minister's report, but claimed it fell
short on a number of fronts. United Ethiopian Democratic
Front (UEDF) President Dr. Beyene Petros argued that while
the government's parliamentary reform efforts and interest in
hiring international consultants sounded reasonable, Meles
offered far too little information about the program. MP
Tesfaye Challa of the CUD concurred, adding that any
parliamentary reform activities should include input from the
opposition.

10. (U) Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) MP
Bulcha Demeksa applauded the Prime Minister for speaking
about parliamentary shortcomings, but asked for more
information about the violence that had permeated Ethiopia.
He stressed that the government, his own party, and the
general public, had little information about those
responsible for the violence of the past year. He warned
about speaking "as if we know who did it" and recommended
allowing the commission of inquiry (reftel) to do its work.
Furthermore, Oromo National Congress (ONC) MP Gerbru
Gebre-Mariam cautioned the Prime Minister about focusing the
investigation on violence in Addis Ababa. There continue to
be widespread problems outside of Addis Ababa and, in
particular, the Oromiya region, he said.

11. (U) All opposition MPs speaking in response to the Prime
Minister's speech questioned his decision to leave the EPRDF
in control of Addis Ababa city government. ONC MP Tolosa
Tesfaye believed that in this case the "people's decision has
been averted." Beyene called for Meles to respect the wishes
of the voting public and install those who were elected.
Bulcha questioned the legality of Meles' decision to
essentially appoint the current Addis Ababa city government
leaders. (Note: The CUD leadership, prior to the arrest of
many of its members, voted not to take over the Addis Ababa
Regional Council, where the coalition had won an overwhelming
majority of the seats. End Note.)

-------
COMMENT
-------

12. (U) The political discussion following Prime Minister
Meles' address to Parliament highlights the divide between
government and opposition parties, but also underscores the
opportunity for real debate that already exists in Ethiopia's
evolving Parliament. Not only were opposition party members
given a public forum to express their opinions, but
English-language state-run media outlets also published their

rebuttals to the PM's speech. Opposition parties have
enjoyed no state media access since the election, so the
appearance of opposition points of view in state media is a
small, but important breakthrough.
HUDDLESTON

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