Crossroads Asia

Kyrgyzstan Election Worries: Biometrics, Migrants, Technical Difficulties

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Crossroads Asia

Kyrgyzstan Election Worries: Biometrics, Migrants, Technical Difficulties

Bishkek will have a new parliament next month, but election day could be chaotic.

Kyrgyzstan Election Worries: Biometrics, Migrants, Technical Difficulties
Credit: Flickr/kitoy

Kyrgyzstan, as I have detailed before, is using a new biometric registration system for voting in the upcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for October 4. The law making registration — which requires submission of a fingerprint, photo and signature — mandatory in order to vote was recently upheld as constitutional by the Constitutional Chamber of Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court.

The precise substance of the decision is unknown, but one of the human rights activists, Toktaim Umetalieva, who filed the claim against the mandatory biometrics law told AKIpress that “the decision was made in nobody’s favor in fact. That is, the Chamber recognized [the] constitutionality of the law on biometric registration, but ordered the Parliament to rework the law in terms of a precise formulation of goals and objectives, mechanisms and criteria. In such case the law can be changed significantly.”

The court’s decision on the constitutionality of the law was preceded by the summer ousting of the judge originally tasked with the case after she was accused of revealing her views on the biometric data law – that it was unconstitutional – before making her ruling public.

In addition to constitutionality, the system is also technically tenuous and some worry may simply result in chaos on election day. A recent opinion piece published by highlights some of these worries. For one thing, the State Registration Service (SRS) responsible for registering citizens and the Central Election Commission (CEC) still have different voter lists:

According to SRS, the list of voters in Kyrgyzstan includes 2,619,000 people — they are the citizens who have passed biometric registration. “When we compared the list, submitted by CEC, with our data, the data of only 1.3 million people coincided and other 800,000 voters were simply absent,” the head of SRS Alina Shaikova said.

Ideally, the system is supposed to secure the election against fraud, such as stuffing ballot boxes and proxy voting. But the cure could be worse than the disease, disenfranchising those who have not volunteered to register and potentially some who did.

One population of concern that gets overlooked is Kyrgyzstan’s migrants. An estimated 20 percent of the Kyrgyz working-age population is abroad; according to one source 545,000 Kyrgyz migrants were officially registered in Russia. As Erica Marat commented at an event in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, Kyrgyz migrant workers in Russia had to travel to a select number of cities in order to register and will have to do so again in order to vote. Marat believes that most migrant workers simply won’t bother voting.

Another area of concern is the equipment and its operation on election day. Japan donated $6 million worth of equipment for biometric registration. While the process of voter identification is supposed to take less than 30 seconds, “it is easier said than done,” Darya Podolskaya and Makhinir Niyazova wrote for

During a performance of the official in front of reporters, the equipment failed and the whole procedure from the check of fingerprints to the throwing of ballot in the ballot box took about 20 minutes! Deputy Prime Minister hastened to explain the fact by embarrassment of the operators before the media and said that everything would be fine at the polling stations. I wonder, how will they explain the problems with identification then? [sic]

A core concern is that technical difficulties could provide a pretext for questioning the results of the election and that trouble at the polls could kindle unrest. That’s the worst-case scenario. In all likelihood, election day will be marked by some technical troubles, migrant workers won’t bother voting, and in the end a number of politicians will be disappointed. But a new parliament will be elected, and a new coalition formed — then comes the hard part: governing.