INK HELPS DRIVE DEMOCRACY IN ASIA
INK HELPS DRIVE DEMOCRACY IN ASIA
2005-02-26 at 10:45:00 am #10550Ink helps drive democracy in Asia
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 elections.
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 boxes.
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
Widely circulated articles compared the use of ink to the rural practice of
marking sheep – a still common metaphor in this primarily agricultural society.
The author of one such article began a petition drive against the use of the
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
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