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Cablegate: Election: Slugfest Tightens, Getting Dirtier

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SENSITIVE, SIPDIS

DEPT PLEASE PASS TO USOAS AND USAID/LAC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM EC
SUBJECT: Election: Slugfest Tightens, Getting Dirtier


1. (SBU) Summary: Private polls continue to show the presidential
race between Alvaro Noboa (PRIAN) and Rafael Correa (PAIS) in a dead
heat. With the formal campaign period closing at midnight on
November 23, both candidates continue to fund a final publicity
blitz, despite prohibitions on further spending. Both also appear
to be partaking in mud-slinging and dirty tricks, hoping to attract
the substantial number of undecided voters in the waning days of the
campaign. The OAS election observation mission was late returning
to Ecuador and is now dithering about whether to conduct a quick
count. We have encouraged them to go ahead, and Embassy volunteers
will participate in the mission on election day. We hope to have
additional poll data to report by November 24, and expect the
immediate post-electoral period to be restive should the final
results be close. End Summary.

Candidates Tied, Many Still Undecided
-------------------------------------
2. (SBU) Sources at respected polling firm Informe Confidencial
(IC) (please protect) tell us that preliminary information from
their most recent poll shows Correa and Noboa tied at 39%. Another
respected polling firm, CEDATOS/Gallup, has promised fresh results
by November 24.

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3. (SBU) IC's numbers indicate that 22% of voters are still
undecided or intending to nullify their votes, (12% voted blank or
null on election day in 2002). Pundits predict many undecided
voters will decide during coming days. Polibio Cordova, director of
polling firm Cedatos/Gallup, noted that indecision is at an all-time
high for this point in the campaign. He attributed those high
levels to the fact that both campaigns are looking more and more
alike in these closing days; similar populist offerings have left
the electorate uncertain of the choice they are facing.

Noboa: Spouse Appeal
--------------------

4. (SBU) Campaign activity officially ends at midnight on November
23. Neither candidate shows any sign of letting up in the last few
days on the campaign trail or in paid media advertising, despite the
Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) order freezing both candidates'
campaign accounts. (Note: The TSE's order does not affect existing
media contracts, a loophole both candidates appear to be driving
their campaign trucks through. End Note.) Noboa's TV ads
prominently feature his popular and photogenic wife, Anabella Azin,
who has already handily won her seat in Congress. Others offer
testimonials from satisfied workers on his banana plantations, but
Noboa's personal presence is relatively scarce.

5. (SBU) Noboa continues to campaign in the Sierra, stopping
recently in the northern border province of Carchi and the populous
province of Pichincha. He has also been drawn back to his base in
the coastal provinces of Los Rios and El Oro, perhaps because Correa
has been making inroads there. He prominently attended mass while
on the campaign trail November 18 and again on November 20. During
a campaign event in Los Rios on November 20, he dropped to his knees
and asked God to permit him to serve the Ecuadorian people. On
November 18, Noboa gave away two wheelchairs and a computer at a
campaign stop in Quito. Noboa continues to link the Correa campaign
to Hugo Chavez and constantly claims that Correa is waging a dirty
war against him through the leftist media outlets Ecuavisa and Radio
Luna.

Correa: Family Man
------------------

6. (SBU) Continuing his second round strategy of mimicking Noboa's
tactics to blur distinctions between the campaigns, Correa has been
using his family as campaign props. In one constantly cycled TV ad,
Correa walks into his home, greets his excited and charming children
and his wife, introducing viewers to his family while conducting a
monologue requesting voter support. Correa has also been dragging
his reluctant wife, and even his aging mother, to campaign events to
soften his aggressive public persona.


7. (SBU) Correa has divided his time recently between the Noboa
strongholds of Manabi and Guayas provinces and his own voter base in
Pichincha province. Between music and dancing he offers his own
laundry list of populist promises: a bridge for a town in Guayas
province; a promise to allow small fishermen in Manabi to fish for
sharks; a promise to Manabi officials that a Manabi native would be
the next Minister of Public Works. While not disavowing his
position against a free trade agreement with the U.S. and against
renewal of the Manta FOL agreement, Correa has concentrated most of
his discourse on his plan to increase housing allowances to the
poor. Medics accompany some of his campaign events, disbursing
vitamins and de-parasitizing medicine. Correa also publicly donated
a house specially designed to fulfill his promise to improve housing
for rural poor, hitherto one of Noboa's core campaign tactics.

Correa Dirty Tricks
--------------------

8. (SBU) Both campaigns have become increasingly bare knuckled. On
November 21, Correa very publicly pre-empted what he claimed would
be a Noboa-inspired dirty trick involving public release of a
fabricated phone conversation between Correa and his alleged
sponsor, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. (Note: The conversation
has not been released as of this writing and we have no confirmation
of its existence. End Note.) Correa supporters claimed to have
found thousands of housing applications made to Noboa's campaign
dumped in garbage cans, purportedly showing Noboa's insincerity.
Meanwhile, Leftist radio station "La Luna" erroneously reported that
Noboa's U.S. visa had been revoked by the Embassy because one of his
banana transport ships was implicated in a drug bust in 1999. We
have forcefully denied any such visa revocation.

Beefed Up OAS Mission Headed by Bielsa
--------------------------------------

9. (SBU) OAS Ambassador Hugo Saguier told PolChief on November 21
that Deputy Chief OAS Election Observation Mission (EOM) Moises
Benamor would arrive in Quito November 22, followed by EOM Chief
Rafael Bielsa on November 23. Former Chilean Senator Jose Antonio
Viera will beef up and round out the OAS EOM team. Saguier said the
OAS is internally considering whether to conduct a quick count,
after the TSE inappropriately released the OAS quick count results
in the first round after agreeing not to do so. A final OAS
decision on the issue would be taken in OAS headquarters, probably
by November 23. PolChief urged a positive decision, even if the
results are not shared with the GOE.

Results Reporting Estimates
---------------------------

10. (SBU)Saguier said he had advised the TSE to regularly make
official partial results public (beyond the real-time updating of
official results on the TSE webpage tse.org.ec), to enhance
transparency. The TSE has 10 days to announce final results, under
the election law. Saguier believed the TSE would have 50% of the
votes officially counted by November 27; 70% by November 29, and
100% by November 30. A mid-level TSE official was more optimistic,
claiming publicly that presidential results should be final by
November 28. The results on the GOE's non-binding health and
education referendum (referred to here as the "second ballot") will
be counted separately and only after the presidential count is
completed.

Supreme Court Survives Constitutional Challenge
--------------------------------------------- --

11. (SBU) Elsewhere on the democracy front, on November 21,
Ecuador's Constitutional Court threw out a challenge to the
constitutionality of the process used to select the sitting Supreme
Court in November, 2005. The challenge reportedly had initially
attracted support from the PRIAN, PSP and PRE justices on the
nine-member Constitutional Court. During the Gutierrez
administration, these parties collaborated in Congress to pack the
Supreme Court, contributing to the eventual ouster of both the
Gutierrez government and the court. Other constitutional challenges
to the current Supreme Court remain pending, as it acted to replace
three corrupt justices.

Comment
-------

12. (SBU) Even with poll data incomplete and never completely
trustworthy, Correa appears to have upward momentum. With the race
apparently a dead heat among decided voters, final results will be
determined by the relatively large number of undecided voters. PAIS
and PRIAN efforts to turn out their vote will also be critical-and
the PRIAN should have an organizational edge in that regard, after a
decade of party-building. Should results remain close, exit poll
and quick count results will not be publicly announced, harkening a
period of uncertainty as the official vote count trickles in over
the coming week. That uncertainty could prompt shows of strength
from either or both sides on the streets, risking potential
post-electoral conflict.

© Scoop Media

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