Why Kyrgyzstan uses biometrics in its voting system

By Aziza Umarova

Insight into a Central Asian nation that’s starting to open up.

The numbers tell a fascinating story. The Kyrgyz Republic has a population of 5 million, and has had 30 Prime Ministers, 5 Presidents, 2 bloody revolutions, and 1 civil war in the southern Osh region since 1991.

The government is understandably keen to better engage citizens - perhaps something of an understatement. Technology is seen as the answer for a nation that wants to be a hub on the Digital Silk Road, and it’s using tech to cut corruption, include different viewpoints and increase participation in elections.

This year, the government announced its Taza-Koom vision (translated as “pure society”). This is a national project to cut corruption through automation of processes, open data, and use electronic systems to cut voter fraud.

The State Registration Service has developed an electronic voting platform that enables quick registration through fingerprint and facial recognition, with online vote counting created to cut the risk of rigged ballots. The system was tested in the municipal elections, and then again in the parliamentary and the 2017 presidential elections.

‘It is not only about using disruptive technology, but also about unifying people to lead a purpose driven life,” says Eduard Turdaliev, the country’s digital chief.

Digital identity; epayments; tax and customs automation; and online public services are a key part of his vision, and - while it is early days - the nation is investing in the project.

Taza-Koom is intended to “create honour, value and our own future in Central Asia,” Turdaliev says. For Kyrgyzstan, digital disruption could actually bring greater stability than what went before.