Fears of election fraud loom after disclosures about Libyan ID numbers

Over the past several years, there have been numerous attacks on officials working with the NID database by those trying to gain access to it.
Sunday 28/01/2018
Major worry. A 2012 file picture shows an electoral worker verifying the identity of a voter at a polling station in the local council elections in Benghazi. (Reuters)
Major worry. A 2012 file picture shows an electoral worker verifying the identity of a voter at a polling station in the local council elections in Benghazi. (Reuters)

TUNIS - In 2012, the new Libyan authorities decided to reactivate the previous regime’s plan to assign every Libyan a national identity (NID) number. It was thought the move would help stop fraud, such as people using multiple identities to obtain more than one government job and salary.

At the time of the announcement, however, there were concerns that the system would be flawed, not least because it was based on the inaccurate records of the Civil Registry Authority (CRA). As there was no cooperation between the registry and the Ministry of Health, which issues death certificates, many feared that deceased Libyans would remain on the registry and their identities stolen. There were concerns, too, that foreigners could be illegally registered as Libyans.

The concerns were ignored. By early 2013, some 6 million NID numbers had been issued and they have since become the basis for many government services. A valid NID number must be produced to receive government salaries, register for elections and sign up for government entitlements.

That includes last year’s distribution allowance by the Central Bank of Libya, which permitted every Libyan citizen to buy $400 at the official exchange rate (approximately 1.35 Libyan dinars to the dollar) rather than the much higher black market rate, which ranged 6.5-10 dinars to the dollar throughout the year.

The central bank announced this month it had paid almost $2.79 billion to Libyans in the programme at the official rate during the year. It said that the money was given to 6.97 million people — 93% of all those registered with the NID.

This figure raised many eyebrows and triggered serious concerns about the NID number. If

6.97 million people account for 93% of all those registered, there are 7.49 million with a NID number.

The figure is well over the accepted estimated Libyan population, which, at the end of 2017, was put at 6.47 million, 1 million fewer than the 7.49 million registered. Many people are not registered, such as most of the Tawerghas and numerous Tebus and Tuaregs.

Over the past several years, there have been numerous attacks on officials working with the NID database by those trying to gain access to it. Last April, the CRA accused a Tripoli militia of abducting its director in a bid to force him to give them access to the database. In October 2016, a previous acting CRA head was injured in an assassination bid. The previous month, two CRA staff members were kidnapped in the capital. Two months before that, two CRA staff were kidnapped and killed in the southern town of Murzuq. There have been other abductions of staff.

Most of these cases were considered financially motivated: The perpetrators wanted new identities created so they could claim salaries for them. Non-Libyans have been discovered with Libyan passports issued on the basis of fake NID numbers.

However, there are indications that crimes were politically motivated as well.

In March 2016, the CRA warned that its database had been compromised by ‘‘ideologically extremist groups’’ intent on creating identities “for their own interests.”

With UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame pushing for elections by the end of 2018, there are concerns about using NID numbers for voter registration. A possible 1 million spurious voters could massively subvert Libyans’ voting intentions, especially given the relatively low numbers involved.

The High National Election Commission (HNEC) said there are more than 2 million voters registered. That is lower than the 2,865,937 people who registered to vote in the 2012 General National Congress elections, of whom 62% turned out to vote.

In 2014, 1,509,291 people registered to vote for the Constitution Drafting Assembly in February, with about half that number turning out to vote. The number fell further for the June 2014 elections for the House of Representatives: 1.5 million registered to vote and 42% of those registered turned out. This means 630,000 voted in the election — 18% of the estimated total potential electorate.

Following the Central Bank’s announcement about last year’s distribution allowance, questions are being asked over how many of the 2 million names registered to vote are fraudulent. There have been reports of people applying to register with their NID numbers only to be told that they had been registered elsewhere.

“The figure [of an extra 1 million population] is too high and it’s a major worry,” said Otman Gajiji, the former chairman of the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections and prior to that of HNEC. “This must be resolved before the planned elections.”

Gajiji said the government needed some form of biometric verification for NID numbers and registration.

“There is enough time for HNEC to ask for fingerprinting to validate the registry’s 7.5 million figure,” he said.

For Libya, mere uncertainty about the numbers involved is likely to have a disastrous effect. Until it is shown that everyone registered to vote is entitled to do so, the authenticity of the polls will almost certainly be challenged. The losers will claim the results illegitimate and refuse to accept them.

There is precedent for this. In 2014, when the losers of the elections for the House of Representatives refused to accept the result on technical legal grounds, the new House and the government were forced to quit Tripoli, which was taken over by those losers. The divisions created by that rejection of the polls remain at the heart of Libya’s crisis.

 

Until it is shown that everyone registered to vote is entitled to do so, the authenticity of the polls will almost certainly be challenged.

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