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LALIT protests to ESC and Electoral Commissioner re ID Documents Interfering with Democracy

27.11.2014

LALIT sent the following letter to the Electoral Commissioner yesterday, 26 November, 2014, to protest about the introduction of identity documents in the voting process.

Dear Sir,

The Electoral Commissioner is an office central to the voting process, which is, in turn, central to the little democracy that we have won through past struggles. This is why we write this letter to you.

The subject of our concern is the question of recent introduction of “Identity Documents”, ID numbers and/or ID Cards, for candidates, electoral agents, and for electors. The right to vote and to stand as candidate should never be annulled simply because someone cannot present a piece of plastic.

We know that there is a strong political current justifying the use of identity documents on the grounds, we believe specious, that it will decrease impersonation. The Office of the Electoral Commissioner has never warned the public of any vast practice of impersonation, at any level, nor shown how plastic cards will decrease such practice. In addition, we believe that the use of ID Cards will increase ordinary “artisanal” impersonation exponentially, at the same time as impinge on democratic rights.

The right to stand as candidate for general elections and to vote in them is already subject to some limitations in the Constitution and in the Representation of the People Act and in various Regulations that flow from these. Instead of moving towards more democratic rights, the new Regulations seem to run in the opposite direction.

Our arguments are based on practical issues and also on deep philosophical ones, although the two levels are obviously linked. Let us deal with the practical issues, and let the more philosophical ones flow from them.

For the present election, ID documents are, for the first time, being insisted upon. Various kinds of identity document are being accepted, including ID Cards, new and old. This new practice looks like the thin end of a wedge.

We note, for example, that the new Nomination Forms included little boxes for ID CARD digits and letters. Why? We genuinely do not know why. So ridiculous is this inclusion of the “ID card Number” of the electors (“parin”/“marenn”) who nominate a candidate on Nomination Day, and of “electoral agents”, that some Electoral Commission officers, in need of something to check the number against, insisted on making candidates run around the country with clutchfuls of other peoples’ ID cards in their possession. The exercise on Nomination Day was thus quite Kafkaesque: there was strictly nothing to check the number against.

Unless, of course, and this would be very worrying indeed, your insisting on getting hold of these numbers implies that the Office of the Electoral Commissioner will have access to the Central Database of the NIC to check the number against? This would, should it be the case, in turn, be yet another infringement of peoples’ rights, the right to privacy. The mere suspicion that the Office of the Electoral Commissioner has access to the Central Population Data-Base, to check some 3,000 ID Card numbers linked to political opinion (over 700 candidates each with 4-6 “parin”), is a further potential interference with democracy. And would this imply a reciprocal data exchange? Would the Prime Minister’s Office and the Minister of ICT, both political posts, then have access to information that is under control of the ESC and the Electoral Commissioner and that it can cross-reference with its other data?

We believe that you should, in the interests of transparency, make a public statement as to the reason for having harvested all the numbers on peoples’ ID cards. What do you intend to do with this information? What purpose does it, or did it, serve? Is there an arrangement with the ID Card Central Data-base? Or were the numbers just harvested for nothing? Except perhaps to make sheep out of us all? Candidates, “parin” and electoral officers, alike?

And coming to the more philosophical arguments. Basically a human being is who he or she says they are. Our identity is our own, and is not dependent on a bit of plastic issued by the State. Human rights, too, belong to human beings, not to bits of plastic.

It is not just speculation on our part that, once bits of plastic replace real human identities, these bits of plastic soon become merchandise, being bought and sold by unscrupulous agents, and that, on a large scale. It seems to have already happened. In Rodrigues, as soon as ID Cards were involved instead of personal “demarche” like signatures handed over through a chain of people who know someone personally, we read in the Press that there are already wily agents buying up peoples’ ID Cards by the hundred. This is being done allegedly for the sum of Rs2,000 plus a pair of shoes! An investigation is, of course, underway, but the point is that fraud is not prevented by ID Cards. Now, instead of the odd case of “artisanal” impersonation as in the past, we have the potentially massive falsification of election results, once identity gets so externalized that the human being involved is no longer as important as a bit of plastic issued by the State. In any case, your Office has never, to our knowledge, presented a case showing that the scale of past impersonation represented a threat to the democratic process.

Let us now, by contrast, look at the curtailing of democracy that is provoked, for practical reasons again, by the introduction of the bureaucratic procedure of insisting upon ID Cards. The Prime Minister in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 9 July, 2013 said, “Mr. Speaker, Sir, presently, the NIC Unit attends to an average of 250 to 300 cases of replacement of lost cards on a daily basis” (Hansard No 15 of 2013). As it takes 14 days (minimum) to replace one’s card, simple arithmetic says that on any General Election polling day, there will be some 4,000 people disenfranchised. As poorer people will be hard-pressed to get hold of the money to pay the transport costs, loss of two days’ wages, and replacement cost of any lost card, they will often further delay its replacement, probably doubling or trebling the number of people affected, and, meanwhile, introducing a discriminatory element, too: the poor will be more heavily disenfranchised than the rich.

If ever ID cards become a condition for voting, it will be easy enough for unscrupulous agents or even “sef klan” to confiscate vulnerable peoples’ ID Cards, and hold them until elections are over, thus effectively disenfranchising them. You may not be aware of it – and we say this because it is a cruel class reality – but the poorer half of the population, who often resort to illegal money-lenders, can find their ID Cards left as guarantee (“angaz”) with people, who may also be political agents or who collude, at elections, with political agents.

We know that there is, always has been, and probably always will be, some problem of “impersonation” of electors. This has, however, as we mentioned, taken place until now on an “artisanal” scale. The problem should be addressed in a democratic way by, for example, running a campaign to the effect that everyone has the same right to vote, one ballot paper for three candidates, and deriding anyone voting twice as someone thinking himself twice as important as everyone else. So impersonation is thus shown up as something immoral, as well as illegal. The parties should be encouraged to tighten up their agents in classrooms. And anyone suspected of impersonation should be prosecuted for involvement in such an intrigue against democracy, itself, and against the equal rights of all electors. In any case, in close results being contested, tendered ballots can replace any impersonation of living people, and the ballots of anyone who voted in any deceased or absent person’s name can also be found by serial number and eliminated.

In the past, we have never heard the ESC or the Electoral Commissioner complain of a single instance of the impersonation of a candidate by someone else, let alone any general practice of this kind. So, there is no need to harvest all the candidates’ personal ID Card numbers. The risk of spreading this information around is thus infinitely greater than any potential “good” that the storage of a candidate’s ID Card number could do. If ever the secret police, who hover like vultures around the Nomination Centres on Nomination Day as you know, get hold of NIC Data-base information, and the ESC data is linked to the ID number, we can imagine the harm that could and would be done to democracy. We note, meanwhile, that data is increasingly stored electronically by the Electoral Commissioner’s office, thus further increasing dangers of leakage of information, including that of a political nature, about an individual.

LALIT is concerned about the anti-democratic and irrational element that is creeping into the electoral process through the insistence on using these bureaucratic forms of identification, instead of the tried-and-tested “human” ones. We believe that this tendency, noted on Nomination Day on Monday 24 November, will, if left to its own devices and not opposed, lead to massive problems of impersonation on a truly “industrial scale”. The problem will only become worse when electronic forms of identification replace the simple bureaucratic forms we have already seen on Monday.

As we write, there is the beginning of a scandal about the Prime Minister, who Mr. Rao Ramma, head of the NIC unit in the PMO, says has taken out his new ID Card but who seems still, unlike others who have taken up the new card, to still simultaneously have use of an old one. This stands to remind the ESC that the Prime Minister is the head of political party as well as head of the ID Card Unit, which is in his Office.

Yours sincerely,
……………………..
for LALIT, dated: 25 November, 2014

And, LALIT sent a similar letter (below) to the Electoral Supervisory Commission:

Dear Sir,

The Electoral Supervisory Commission is central to the voting process, which is, in turn, central to the little democracy that we have won through past struggles. This is why we write this letter to you.

The subject of our concern is the question of recent introduction of “Identity Documents”, ID numbers and/or ID Cards, for candidates, electoral agents, and for electors. The right to vote and to stand as candidate should never, we believe, be annulled simply because someone cannot present a piece of plastic.

We know that there is a strong political current justifying the use of identity documents on the grounds, we believe specious, that it will decrease impersonation. The ESC has never warned the public of any widespread practice of impersonation, at any level, nor shown how plastic cards will decrease any that exists. In addition, we believe that the use of ID Cards will increase ordinary “artisanal” impersonation exponentially, at the same time as violate democratic rights.

The right to stand as candidate for general elections and to vote in them is already subject to some limitations in the Constitution and in the Representation of the People Act and in various Regulations that flow from these. Instead of moving towards more democratic rights, the new Regulations seem to run in the opposite direction.

Our arguments are based on practical issues and also on deep philosophical ones, although the two levels are obviously linked. Let us deal with the practical issues, and let the more philosophical ones flow from them.

For the present election, ID documents are, for the first time, being insisted upon. Various kinds of identity document are being accepted, including ID Cards, new and old. This new practice looks like the thin end of a wedge.

We note, for example, that the new Nomination Forms included little boxes for ID CARD digits and letters. Why? We genuinely do not know why. So ridiculous is this inclusion of the “ID card Number” of the electors (“parin”/“marenn”) who nominate a candidate on Nomination Day, and of “electoral agents”, that some Electoral Commission officers, in need of something to check the number against, insisted on making candidates run around the country with clutchfuls of other peoples’ ID cards in their possession. The exercise on Nomination Day was thus quite Kafkaesque: there was strictly nothing to check the number against.

Unless, of course, and this would be very worrying indeed, your insisting on getting hold of these numbers implies that the ESC will have access to the Central Database of the NIC to check the number against? This would, should it be the case, in turn, be yet another infringement of peoples’ rights, the right to privacy. The mere suspicion that the ESC has access to the Central Population Data-Base, to check some 3,000 ID Card numbers linked to political opinion (over 700 candidates each with 4-6 “parin”), is a further potential interference with democracy. And would this imply a reciprocal data exchange? Would the Prime Ministers Office and the Minister of ICT, both political posts, then have access to information that is under control of the ESC and the Electoral Commissioner and that it can cross-reference with its other data?

We believe that you should, in the interests of transparency, make a public statement as to the reason for having harvested all the numbers on peoples’ ID cards. What do you intend to do with this information? What purpose does it, or did it, serve? Is there an arrangement with the ID Card Central Data-base? Or were the numbers just harvested for nothing? Except perhaps to make sheep out of us all? Candidates, “parin” and electoral officers, alike.

And coming to the more philosophical arguments. Basically a human being is who he or she says they are. Our identity is our own, and is not dependent on a bit of plastic issued by the State. Human rights, too, belong to human beings, not to bits of plastic.

It is not just speculation on our part that, once bits of plastic replace real human identities, these bits of plastic soon become merchandise, being bought and sold by unscrupulous agents, and that, on a large scale. It seems to have already happened. In Rodrigues, as soon as ID Cards were involved instead of personal “demarche” like signatures handed over through a chain of people who know someone personally, we read in the Press that there are already wily agents buying up peoples’ ID Cards by the hundred. This is being done allegedly for the sum of Rs2,000 plus a pair of shoes! An investigation is, of course, underway, but the point is that fraud is not prevented by ID Cards. Now, instead of the odd case of “artisanal” impersonation as in the past, we have the potentially massive falsification of election results, once identity gets so externalized that the human being involved is no longer as important as a bit of plastic issued by the State. In any case, your Office has never, to our knowledge, presented a case showing that the scale of past impersonation represented a threat to the democratic process.

Let us now, by contrast, look at the curtailing of democracy that is provoked, for practical reasons again, by the introduction of the bureaucratic procedure of insisting upon ID Cards. The Prime Minister in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 9 July, 2013 said, “Mr Speaker, Sir, presently, the NIC Unit attends to an average of 250 to 300 cases of replacement of lost cards on a daily basis” (Hansard No 15 of 2013). As it takes 14 days (minimum) to replace one’s card, simple arithmetic says that on any General Election polling day, there will be some 4,000 people disenfranchised. As poorer people will be hard-pressed to get hold of the money to pay the transport costs, loss of two days’ wages, and replacement cost of any lost card, they will often further delay its replacement, probably doubling or trebling the number of people affected, and, meanwhile, introducing a discriminatory element, too: the poor will be more heavily disenfranchized than the rich.

If ever ID cards become a condition for voting, it will be easy enough for unscrupulous agents or even “sef klan” to confiscate vulnerable peoples’ ID Cards, and hold them until elections are over, thus effectively disenfranchising them. You may not be aware of it – and we say this because it is a cruel class reality – but the poorer half of the population, who often resort to illegal money-lenders, can find their ID Cards left as guarantee (“angaz”) with people, who may also be political agents or who collude, at elections, with political agents.

We know that there is, always has been, and probably always will be, some problem of “impersonation” of electors. This has, however, as we mentioned, taken place until now on an “artisanal” scale. The problem should be addressed in a democratic way by, for example, running a campaign to the effect that every one has the same right to vote, one ballot paper for three candidates, and deriding anyone voting twice as someone thinking himself twice as important as everyone else. So impersonation is thus shown up as something immoral, as well as illegal. The parties should be encouraged to tighten up their agents in classrooms. And anyone suspected of impersonation should be prosecuted for involvement in such an intrigue against democracy, itself, and against the equal rights of all electors. In any case, in close results being contested, tendered ballots can replace any impersonation of living people, and the ballots of anyone who voted in any deceased or absent person’s name can also be found by serial number and eliminated.

In the past, we have never heard the ESC or the Electoral Commissioner complain of a single instance of the impersonation of a candidate by someone else, let alone any general practice of this kind. So, there is no need to harvest all the candidates’ personal ID Card numbers. The risk of spreading this information around is thus infinitely greater than any potential “good” that the storage of a candidate’s ID Card number could do. If ever the secret police, who hover like vultures around the Nomination Centres on Nomination Day as you know, get hold of NIC Data-base information, and the ESC data is linked to the ID number, we can imagine the harm that could and would be done to democracy. We note, meanwhile, that data is increasingly stored electronically by the Electoral Commissioner’s office, thus further increasing dangers of leakage of information, including that of a political nature, about an individual.

LALIT is concerned about the anti-democratic and irrational element that is creeping into the electoral process through the insistence on using these bureaucratic forms of identification, instead of the tried-and-tested “human” ones. We believe that this tendency, noted on Nomination Day on Monday 24 November, will, if left to its own devices and not opposed, lead to massive problems of impersonation on a truly “industrial scale”. The problem will only become worse when electronic forms of identification replace the simple bureaucratic forms we have already seen on Monday.

As we write, there is the beginning of a scandal about the Prime Minister, who Mr. Rao Ramma, head of the NIC unit in the PMO, says has taken out his new ID Card but who seems still, unlike others who have taken up the new card, to simultaneously have use of an old one. This stands to remind the ESC that the Prime Minister is the head of political party as well as head of the ID Card Unit, which is in his Office.

Yours sincerely,




……………………..
For LALIT