Ink helps drive democracy in Asia
rah at shipwright.com
Sat Feb 19 12:01:04 PST 2005
Saturday, 19 February, 2005, 08:34 GMT
Ink helps drive democracy in Asia
By Dr David Mikosz
The Kyrgyz Republic, a small, mountainous state of the former Soviet
republic, is using invisible ink and ultraviolet readers in the country's
elections as part of a drive to prevent multiple voting.
This new technology is causing both worries and guarded optimism among
different sectors of the population.
In an effort to live up to its reputation in the 1990s as "an island of
democracy", the Kyrgyz President, Askar Akaev, pushed through the law
requiring the use of ink during the upcoming Parliamentary and Presidential
The US government agreed to fund all expenses associated with this decision.
"The use of ink and readers by itself is not a panacea for election ills"
The Kyrgyz Republic is seen by many experts as backsliding from the high
point it reached in the mid-1990s with a hastily pushed through referendum
in 2003, reducing the legislative branch to one chamber with 75 deputies.
The use of ink is only one part of a general effort to show commitment
towards more open elections - the German Embassy, the Soros Foundation and
the Kyrgyz government have all contributed to purchase transparent ballot
The actual technology behind the ink is not that complicated.
The ink is sprayed on a person's left thumb. It dries and is not visible
under normal light.
However, the presence of ultraviolet light (of the kind used to verify
money) causes the ink to glow with a neon yellow light.
At the entrance to each polling station, one election official will scan
voter's fingers with UV lamp before allowing them to enter, and every voter
will have his/her left thumb sprayed with ink before receiving the ballot.
If the ink shows under the UV light the voter will not be allowed to enter
the polling station. Likewise, any voter who refuses to be inked will not
receive the ballot.
These elections are assuming even greater significance because of two
large factors - the upcoming parliamentary elections are a prelude to a
potentially regime changing presidential election in the Autumn as well as
the echo of recent elections in other former Soviet Republics, notably
Ukraine and Georgia.
The use of ink has been controversial - especially among groups perceived
to be pro-government.
Widely circulated articles compared the use of ink to the rural practice of
marking sheep - a still common metaphor in this primarily agricultural
The author of one such article began a petition drive against the use of
The greatest part of the opposition to ink has often been sheer ignorance.
Local newspapers have carried stories that the ink is harmful, radioactive
or even that the ultraviolet readers may cause health problems.
Others, such as the aggressively middle of the road, Coalition of
Non-governmental Organizations, have lauded the move as an important step
This type of ink has been used in many elections in the world, in
countries as varied as Serbia, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey.
The other common type of ink in elections is indelible visible ink - but
as the elections in Afghanistan showed, improper use of this type of ink
can cause additional problems.
The use of "invisible" ink is not without its own problems. In most
elections, numerous rumors have spread about it.
In Serbia, for example, both Christian and Islamic leaders assured their
populations that its use was not contrary to religion. Other rumours are
associated with how to remove the ink - various soft drinks, solvents and
cleaning products are put forward.
However, in reality, the ink is very effective at getting under the
cuticle of the thumb and difficult to wash off. The ink stays on the finger
for at least 72 hours and for up to a week.
The use of ink and readers by itself is not a panacea for election ills.
The passage of the inking law is, nevertheless, a clear step forward
towards free and fair elections."
The country's widely watched parliamentary elections are scheduled for 27
David Mikosz works for the IFES, an international, non-profit organisation
that supports the building of democratic societies.
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at ibuc.com>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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