Towards a more inclusive election in Kyrgyzstan

A woman votes in the 2017 Kyrgyz presidential elections. Photos: UNDP Kyrgyzstan
UNDP has been working with the authorities to reform the registration process, modernize equipment and train government staff.

With almost 55 percent of the electorate below the age of 40 — a very young voting population — the time is ripe for addressing five key areas.

1. Combat vote buying and voter intimidation

The financial factor — money — should not decide the outcome of an election. Still, concerns over the misuse of public resources, pressures on voters, and vote-buying are frequently cited in past reports by international election observers. Over time, sustained civic education for voters to understand all aspects of their rights in a democratic society is critically important. In the near term, the electoral commission has maximized the use of social media platforms to inform the electorate about voting rights and to build confidence in the integrity of the voting system. There is no possibility for anyone to see how another person has voted, as the biometric voter’s register is offline on election day, and the automated ballot boxes use an entirely separate system using only manual input. Unfortunately, voter intimidation tactics are sometimes used also to stop people from voting. The Youth Lab invited young people to contribute their ideas on how to persuade their peers not to sell their vote — and this generated 18 new communications products that are now online in several media. The CEC has also used humor as a tool to raise awareness of voting confidentiality and the campaign “Don’t Sell Your Vote” has been endorsed by a number of media “influencers”.

2. Include migrant and expatriate voters

Almost 800,000 Kyrgyz citizens were disfranchised in 2017 as they could not register their biometric data as prescribed by the law and thus not included in the voters register. Through successive registration rounds, this number has reduced to below 400,000, many of them in rural, remote areas. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic however, the conditions have disabled further outreach and registration rounds in the months leading up to elections.

A woman votes in the 2017 Kyrgyz presidential elections.

3. Support women in politics

Women are increasingly underrepresented in elected office and in state bodies. On the campaign scene, discrimination and defamation of women is still common. A recent decision by the Parliament to also set a 30 percent quota for women in local councils is an important affirmative action for women to gain experience in politics at the local level and paves the way for being nominated in their own right to parliament. Efforts must continue to develop a positive perception of women in politics, dispel gender stereotypes and inform women on their right to participate. On election day, the CEC will uncover an exhibition of past women political leaders, developed with UN Women.

4. Address human rights and hate speech

Professional and unbiased support from security forces is an integral part of the electoral process. Training law enforcement officials to provide security during elections and the planning processes is therefore an important step in ensuring that security forces are prepared to respond effectively to threats arising during the electoral process. Together with the OSCE and OHCHR, UNDP is conducting a series of trainings for law enforcement agencies on ensuring human rights and electoral security, as well as prevention, investigation and accountability for electoral offences.

5. Safe voting during the pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic has become a challenge for many areas of public services, and elections are no exception. CEC has carefully developed safety protocols and mobilized protective equipment to meet sanitary norms at all stages of the electoral process, ensuring all participants can perform their functions without fear of infection. UNDP has also played a key role in helping the development of safety protocols and in procuring PPE. At the end of the day, the day of elections will require the cooperation between local officials, elections commissioners, and the general public to ensure that safe and considerate voting conditions are maintained on election day.

UNDP and Japan hand over biometric equipment to Kyrgyzstan.

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