Cablegate: Ethiopia: Local Elections On the Horizon - Is

DE RUEHDS #3120/01 3321311
P 281311Z NOV 06





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) ACTION REQUEST: Please see paragraph 19.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY Still working through the aftermath of the
disputed federal elections in 2005, Ethiopia now focuses on
important local elections in early 2007. Voter anger and
candidate intimidation are hurdles to a successful campaign,
as is a potential boycott by opposition parties. A mountain
of administrative tasks remain to be completed to prepare for
30 million voters to select among thousands of possible
candidates. Despite these challenges, the National Election
Board (NEB) and political parties recognize the importance of
these elections and the potential for them to be a tangible
step forward in Ethiopia's democratization process.
International support is critical at this stage to fund voter
education, NEB capacity-building and election observation.
International engagement will also be needed to influence the
re-opening of space for opposition campaigning and encourage
opposition participation (see paragraph 19 for action
request). Finally, the fate of those detained in connection
with political violence in November 2005 will be a key
determinant of public confidence in 2007 elections. END

3. (SBU) During the week of November 13, Poloff met with
representatives of the National Election Board of Ethiopia
(NEB) Tesfaye Menegesha, Secretary General, and Mekonnen
Wondimu, Director of the Office of the Registrar. Separate
meetings were also held with representatives of all major
political parties in Ethiopia: Shiferaw Jarso, Ethiopian
Peoples, Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF); Lidetu
Ayalew, United Ethiopian Democratic Party ) Medhin
(UEDP-Medhin); Bulcha Dimeksa, Oromo Federalist Democratic
Movement (OFDM); Dr. Merera Gudina and Beyene Petros, United
Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF); and Temesgen Zewdie,
Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP). These
meetings were intended to gain insight into the anticipated
local elections in 2007 and to learn how the NEB and
political parties are currently preparing.


4. (SBU) The last local elections took place in 2001 and are
ordinarily scheduled to take place every five years.
However, due to the unstable domestic political environment
following the national and regional parliamentary elections
in 2005, the local elections for 2006 were postponed.

5. (SBU) Local elections are held to choose representatives
for the city, kebele and woreda councils. Additionally, in
the Southern Nations and Nationalities Peoples Region of
Ethiopia (SNNPR), elections are also held for zonal councils.
In all other regions zonal councils are appointed by the
regional parliament, rather than selected directly by the
voters. The hierarchy of governmental authority in Ethiopia
is as follows: Federal, regional, zonal, woreda, kebele. The
authority of city councils varies depending mostly on the
population of the city. For example, the city council of
Addis Ababa (a special administrative zone) has authority
equivalent to that of a regional parliament. Smaller cities
have authority that lies between a woreda and a zone (though
the mayor will answer directly to the regional parliament).
Therefore, in one local election, a voter may vote separately
for city, kebele, woreda and zonal (in SNNPR) representatives.

6. (SBU) Within Ethiopia, there are 9 regions, in addition to
the special administrative areas of the cities of Addis Ababa
and Dire Dawa. Each region, other than the special city
administrations, contains a varying number of zones, woredas
and kebeles, depending mostly on the population of that
region. There are a total of 65 zones in Ethiopia, including
13 in the Southern Nationalities Region. Each zone contains
anywhere between 5 and 22 woredas, depending on population,
as each woreda is made up of approximately 100,000 people.
There are roughly 630 woredas in Ethiopia. Within each
woreda, there are between 20 and 50 kebeles. Boundaries of
kebeles, like zones, are designated largely on administrative
convenience and population densities. For example, kebeles
in urban centers may contain up to 5,000 people, whereas

ADDIS ABAB 00003120 002 OF 005

those in some rural areas may have very few people.

7. (SBU) During the May 2005 Federal and Regional
parliamentary elections, voters in Addis Ababa also elected
the Addis Ababa city council (as it is the equivalent of a
regional council). All but one of the seats on the 138
person Addis Ababa council was won by the opposition CUD
coalition. However, many of these elected council members
refused to take up their positions, leading to the
installation of an interim council by the GoE. The mandate
of the interim council was set for one year, which expires in
April 2007. Therefore, the NEB plans to also hold Addis
Ababa city council elections during the same time as the
other national local elections.

--------------------------------------------- ----
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8. (SBU) NEB Secretary General Tesfaye informed Poloff that
the NEB is planning for the first round of local elections to
take place on the April 29, 2007. During this round,
elections for all woreda councils in Ethiopia will take
place, as well as the zonal councils in the Southern
Nationalities Region, and the city council elections for
Addis Ababa. One week later, on May 6, the elections for
kebele in all regions and city councils (outside of Addis
Ababa) will take place. Though the NEB is currently making
preparations for these dates, Tesfaye pointed out that these
dates may be changed by the NEB's incoming board of
directors. (NOTE: The outgoing board of directors' mandate
expired on November 9. The appointment of a new board is
constitutionally the responsibility of the Prime Minister,
subject to approval by Parliament. Senior ruling party
officials have promised to consult the opposition on their
appointments. To date, no new board has been presented to
Parliament. END NOTE.)

9. (SBU) Mekonnen Wondimu, the Director of the Office of the
Registrar at the NEB, is in charge of all technical
preparations for the elections, including voter and candidate
registration. Mekonnen explained to Poloff that currently
his department is preparing voter registration materials.
These materials, once completed, will be distributed to the
30,000 polling stations (approximately one for 1,000-1,500
eligible voters) around Ethiopia. Voter registration must
take place 3 to 4 months before the date of the election.
Prior to the completion of the voter registration, candidate
registration must also be completed, and typically lasts one
month. (NOTE: According to these regulations, and by
Mekonnen's estimate, candidate registration may begin as
early as mid-December if the election takes place on April
29. END NOTE) Once the voter and candidate registration is
completed, information is collected centrally. At that point
voter registration cards are printed and distributed back to
the polling stations. Also, ballots and explanatory posters
are printed using symbols associated with parties and
candidates. Mekonnen explained that this must be done due to
the low literacy rates in Ethiopia.

10. (SBU) Mekonnen said that the NEB is anticipating 32
million voters nation-wide for this election, representing an
85-90 percent turnout. Further, in discussing candidate
selection, he explained that each kebele is divided into 10
constituencies. A political party puts forward on average 10
candidates per constituency. Therefore, in each kebele,
depending on the number of political parties competing, there
may be several hundred candidates running for a kebele
council composed of 100 people (on average). Additionally,
each kebele elects 3 representatives to be represented in the
woreda council. Therefore, there may be dozens of woreda
candidates to choose from. The same system is used to elect
the zonal council in the Southern Nations Region (i.e. each
woreda elects 3 representatives for the zonal council). City
councils also vary in size and number of candidates based on
the population of the city. To further complicate the
selection of candidate, a voter may pick and choose
representatives for every level from among various parties,
as representatives are not selected on a strictly party
basis. Therefore, the NEB must produce ballots and
explanatory materials for every level of local election to
allow voters (many illiterate) to select among the many

ADDIS ABAB 00003120 003 OF 005

hundreds of candidates. Mekonnen was confident that the NEB
can produce these materials within one month following the
registration of voters and candidates.

11. (SBU) Following the difficult task of producing materials
for the elections, the NEB must select, train and manage the
staff each of the 30,000 polling stations. Each station will
be staffed with 5 NEB temporary employees to manage the
voting activity. (NOTE: Those selected by the NEB to
administer elections are chosen primarily from among local
government employees. END NOTE.) In addition, there will be 5
community elders at each station to act as impartial
observers. Further to this, each competing political party
is entitled to have one observer per polling station. For
NEB employees and observers, the NEB will manage a 2-day
training module in preparation of the elections. Following
the completion of the elections, votes are counted at each
polling station, and then aggregated at the relevant central
level (i.e. kebele, woreda, etc.) to be tallied. Mekonnen
said that he anticipates the results of the elections to be
available the following day. He said that the NEB, dependent
on international donor support, plans to implement a radio
campaign of voter education prior to the election, as well as
contracting NGO,s to undertake education activities at a
local level. He also said that international observers would
be welcome to participate, so long as they have been properly
registered. (NOTE: The GoE has not yet made a formal call for
international observation. EPRDF whip Shiferaw Jarso told
Poloffs that he anticipated observation by local groups, but
did not commit on whether international observation would be
invited. END NOTE.)

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12. (SBU) Shiferaw Jarso, parliamentary whip for the ruling
EPRDF party, expressed confidence that the elections would
take place without complications and said that his party is
actively canvassing candidates in preparation. He feels that
the elections will be fair and all political parties will be
free to compete. He was unsure of the date of the election,
as the new NEB has not yet been named. He assured Emboffs
that PM Meles would be presenting a list of candidates to
opposition party leaders soon and that once agreed upon and
confirmed in parliament, the new board would officially
announce the dates. In response to Pol-Econ Counselor's
concern about opposition parties' ability to campaign and
maintain local party offices, Shiferaw referred to the recent
agreement among parties to adhere to the rule of law, saying
there will be no interference from the EPRDF. He also said
that the issue of party financing will be addressed in
inter-party dialogue, but will depend on opposition parties'
willingness to adhere to the rule of law agreement. (NOTE:
Shiferaw singled out Dr. Merera of the UEDF and Temesgen of
the CUDP as party leaders currently not adhering to the
agreement. END NOTE.) In discussing technicalities of the
elections, Shiferaw told Emboffs that city councils in
Ethiopia are elected directly by the voters, but the city
administrations, including mayors, are appointed by the
regional parliaments. (NOTE: This would create a potential
for significant political conflict, as all regional
parliaments are controlled by the EPRDF. END NOTE) However,
this was refuted later by the NEB's Mekonnen, who said that
the city administration and mayor are in fact appointed by
the elected city councils.

13. (SBU) Opposition parties expressed serious concerns
about the local elections, saying that both opposition party
and voter participation may be very limited. Though
opposition party leaders were aware that the GoE planned to
have local elections in 2007, none had been informed by the
NEB about the suggested date of the election and seemed
surprised when informed by Poloff. Another common reaction
among party leaders was their belief in the importance of
controlling the local government councils. Though they told
Poloff that the opposition does not currently control any
kebeles, woredas, zones or cities in Ethiopia, the political
gain for their parties in achieving even some success in
these elections would be tremendous. Beyene of the UEDF went
so far to say he "would almost rather be a woreda
administrator than a federal MP, (because) that is where the

ADDIS ABAB 00003120 004 OF 005

real decisions and impact are made." As an example, he noted
that decisions regarding distribution of the "Protection of
Basic Services" (PBS) development funds are made at a local
level and can make a significant impact on the population.
Dr. Merera pointed out that, "policies may be made at the
federal or regional level, but the implementation is done at
the local level." He said that many policies at the federal
and regional level are not necessarily undesirable; the
problem is that the implementation at the local level is
always determined by the ruling party. All party leaders
also stressed that political intimidation and human rights
abuses would be drastically reduced if local governments had
opposition participation, as a single party would not be able
to dictate the day-to-day national and local administrations.

14. (SBU) Opposition party leaders stressed two key problems
that will likely prevent a successful election: inability to
identify candidates and voter participation. In both of
these restrictions, they pointed either to anger or fear as
major barriers. Among the leaders, Lidetu of UEDP-Medhin was
the most positive, saying "boycotting of the elections is not
a good strategy and our party will certainly participate if
possible." He reported that he is free to move around and
meet with party representatives in his home Amhara region.
However, he said that in his discussions with voters and
party members, nearly all are discouraged and not willing to
participate in the upcoming elections following the
circumstances surrounding the May 2005 elections. He said
that in order to overcome the overwhelming apathy among those
in his party, the planned agenda items for the inter-party
dialogue must proceed quickly. Specifically, he highlighted
that: 1) NEB board discussions must reach agreement by all
parties, thus ensuring an impartial NEB board; 2) the media
law must be agreed upon, which would give the opposition
parties some access to the press; and 3) public financing
should be in place in order to ensure that parties can be
active in campaigning and organizing. He said that he is
anxiously awaiting the resumption of these inter-party
discussions, and if the points are agreed upon, he is
confident that he can work with his party to motivate voters
and candidates.

15. (SBU) Less positive were Temesgen of the CUDP and leaders
from the Oromo Region, Dr. Merera Gudina of the UEDF and
Bulcha Dimeksa of the OFDM. They complained that their party
members continue to be harassed, jailed and beaten by GoE
forces in their areas and that, as a result, voters and
potential candidates are afraid to actively participate.
They stressed that this is particularly true for local
elections, where international attention is likely to be less
than it was for the 2005 federal elections. Bulcha went so
far as to say that the OFDM will not participate unless they
know international observers will be allowed. All three
party leaders echoed Lidetu's concern that the agenda of the
inter-party dialogue be completed. They felt that if these
issues were resolved and if the EPRDF and opposition parties
were able to agree upon a joint public statement encouraging
voters to participate and party leaders were allowed to visit
their constituencies to canvass candidates, that they would
have a successful election and take many kebele, woreda and
city councils.

16. (SBU) Though Beyene had many of the same concerns as the
other party leaders, such as local office closures, inability
to motivate voters and candidates, etc., he offered a broader
view than other leaders. He pointed out that the ruling
EPRDF party recognizes these elections are important for both
political control, as well as international legitimacy. With
that in mind, he expressed some confidence that, while the
election may not be entirely free and fair, the opposition
will likely be given enough space to make some additional
gains. He reiterated that in order to do so, the EPRDF must
immediately reopen the inter-party dialogue and address the
same points made by the other party leaders. Regardless of
the amount of political space granted, Beyene expressed
concern at the NEB's ability to prepare for and administer
such an extensive election for late April, particularly in
his home SNNPR.

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ADDIS ABAB 00003120 005 OF 005

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17. (SBU) The likelihood of success of the 2007 local
elections in Ethiopia will likely be determined in the weeks
ahead, as several key steps must be taken immediately in
order to promote wide participation and legitimacy. The
first and foremost of these is the nomination of the board of
directors for the NEB, a controversial body involved in the
post-election disputes in 2005. Though all the opposition
party leaders are under the impression that the ruling party
will consult with them prior to the nomination of board
members, Shiferaw made it clear that it is the PM's
responsibility to nominate them, subject only to
parliamentary approval. Ensuring that a widely respected
board is put forth is critical for both political parties and
voters. Beyond this, all parties are also insisting that two
other key agenda items be decided: the media law and party
financing. However, action on these issues will likely
require several weeks of negotiation. Parties are quickly
approaching the anticipated period of candidate registration
and an agreement on these points is needed if all parties are
to begin to participate in the election process in good
faith. The fate of those detained in connection with the
November 2005 political violence will also be a large
determinant of public confidence in the 2007 local elections.
Continued detention of CUD leaders and other will make
popular and international acceptance of new elections

18. (SBU) Further to the political complexities, the NEB
faces an extremely daunting task of preparing voter materials
for over 30 million voters to select among thousands of
candidates, not to mention the dire need for voter education.
Multilateral donor involvement in this effort hinges on the
appointment of the new NEB board, whose approval will be
required for UNDP coordination on election assistance. In
the meantime, bi-lateral efforts from donors are under
discussion, both to assist the NEB in election preparation,
as well as to push the GoE to move forward with inter-party

19. (SBU) ACTION REQUEST: Post's ability to fund both
multi-lateral and bilateral electoral support is dependent on
approval of the FY 2006 ESF proposal. This proposal included
$1,650,000 for capacity building and institutional reform
efforts for the NEB, and specific activities focused on the
2007 local elections, such as support civic and voter
education, political party capacity building, training for
candidates, elections monitoring, and improved vote counting
and complaints investigation and adjudication procedures.
Once the questions and concerns laid out above are addressed,
donors will move rapidly to put in place a comprehensive
electoral support program. Post requests approval of FY 2006
ESF proposal.

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