Korean technology helps Kyrgyzstan count ballots in election

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Korean technology helps Kyrgyzstan count ballots in election

Korean’s electoral ways may provoke anguish in editorials and groans from the public at large.

Don’t tell that to Kyrgyzstan, which thinks Korea’s way with elections is the best.

Kyrgyzstan’s general election earlier this month involved 2,338 polling places nationwide. In previous elections, counting the votes was manual and the process took three days.

But on Oct. 4, it took only two hours to count 95 percent of votes. The process could be viewed by the public in real-time through the Central Election Commission (CEC) website.

The technology was brought in from Korea. Voters placed their ballots on optical readers that read the votes and automatically sent the tallies to the country’s Central Election Commission (CEC) via the Internet.

“I couldn’t sleep last night worrying about the possibility of hacking or errors that may arise due to Kyrgyzstan’s instable Internet network,” said Won Jun-hee, who led the technological transfer from Korea’s National Election Commission.

“The election was a great success,” said Tuigunaaly Abdraimov, the chairman of the CEC.

“Thanks to the introduction of the Korean voting system, the election was 99.9 percent transparent,” said Taza Shailoo, a Kyrgyzstani civic group.

Kyrgyzstan, which claimed independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, went through the Tulip Revolution in 2005, which forced President Askar Akayev’s resignation.

In 2013, on a state visit to Korea, Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev requested President Park Geun-hye help with election processes.

The system was partly financed through Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Of the $12 million needed to implement the automated election system, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) paid $6 million. The remaining amount was covered by the Kyrgyzstani government.

“Instead of establishing a school or hospital, we thought it would be more important to put in place an advanced voting system for the country’s development,” said a senior Koica official.

“We hope that the new system spreads positive influence to the neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan to trigger more election ODA from Korea.”

“In the past, political parties bribed election committeemen from each region in order to rig elections,” said the vice chairman of the CEC, “but now that is impossible. Instead, [politicians] are actively focusing more on appealing to the public for votes through various measures such as a political campaign.”

Although the final result was a success, not everything went smoothly from the beginning.

Won Jun-hee of Korea’s National Election Commission points out that even Korea doesn’t use the optical standards because its own politicians are suspicious of the technology. But Kyrgyzstan accepted it. “I was speechless to be honest,” said Won.

The fact that 613 election observers from 69 countries visited the country to watch the election in the country of 6 million was also important.

“I believe I can now show a better world to my daughter, thanks to the new election system,” said a 35-year-old Kyrgyz who voted with his three-year-old baby on his arm.

“I’ve been working as a chairman at polling booths for more than 20 years,” said one election participant, “and I have never seen an election as cheerful as this one.”

BY KIM KYUNG-HEE [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]
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