Life in Benin

Doesn’t anyone get tired of being disenfranchised around here?

Long election lines in Benin
Long election lines in Benin

The current big political flap in Benin is the LEPI (Liste Electorale Permanente Informatisée or Permanent Computerized Voter Registry). Benin’s electoral system is fraught with fraud. In a country where less than a third of the population has an ID card, fixing it will be a long hard process.

Enter the politicians. After months of debate, last night parliament finally approved a computerized voter registry. In an ideal world, the American government’s efforts to get everyone in Benin an ID card will work hand in hand with the Beninese government’s efforts to register voters. Voter registration will be tied directly to some sort of not yet built identity database.

Advantages of the LEPI

Elections will be a lot less expensive, and can be managed centrally. Aside from initial equipment and training costs, just reducing paperwork transportation is huge and limits opportunities for fraud. A database tied to national ID cards also limits double/ triple/ quadruple registration, the registration of minors and the deceased, registration of unqualified aliens, etc.

Problems with the LEPI

Two thirds of the population doesn’t have ID cards. During the last elections, the oversight committee couldn’t find anyone qualified to administer their IT systems, not because there’s no one qualified in the country, but because everyone qualified is in the highly lucrative private sector. The law only allows 90 days for door-to-door national census; not nearly enough time to identify, survey, and photograph 6 million adults (the last ID initiative lasted a year and was pretty effective … but also pretty expensive).[1]

More frightening is the fact that no one has confidence in the ability of the government to control the national database. Who will have access, and who will have oversight? Will there be adequate measures in place to protect citizens’ privacy? The system’s biggest advantage is fraud reduction. If we can’t trust those running the system, that advantage is lost.

A poorly implemented system is worse than no system at all. Will there be a system in place for appeals? Will it work fast enough to resolve problems before the elections? What happens when citizens show up on election day and there are glitches in the system. Do they get to vote?

Elections are only two years away

Force Clé is generally disgusting in its willingness to put its own interests above that of the country, but I find myself in agreement when they ask, what does the FCBE [presidential and party] want?

Rallonger inutilement les délais et les coûts, en comptant sur d’hypothétiques « bailleurs de fonds », comme si ces derniers devaient utiliser les ressources de leurs contribuables pour financer des irrationalités. En prévoyant pour le recensement et pour l’enregistrement des citoyens un délai de 90 jours, alors qu’il en faut le double, que visent ils ? Faire de l’économie ? Non ! Ils préparent le désordre et la confusion qui vont conduire, dans l’improvisation et la précipitation, soit à des opérations illégales ou à des décisions de prorogation de délai, non encadrées par la loi.

Uselessly adding delays and costs, counting on hypothetical « international lenders, » as if they are obligated to use the resources they contribute for irrationalities. In only designating 90 days to survey and register citizens, when twice that is necessary, what are they trying to do? Save money? No! They are preparing disorder and confusion, which will, in our rush and improvisation bring us either to illegal operations or to delay [the vote] in a manner not covered by the law. [2]

Wouldn’t it be better to wait until municipal elections in four years, and test the system in a few localities first? The LEPI worries me. Call me a cynic, but I have no confidence in the Beninese government’s ability to implement a fraud-free LEPI before the 2011 elections. Two years to completely overhaul the electoral system would be a big deal in a developed country; in Benin, it’s going to be a disaster.

[1] L’Arraigné has a pretty good (French) write up of the text of the law, if you’re interested in more specifics.продвижение

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