Kyrgyzstan’s acting president claims blockchain can ensure fair elections

Can a technological fix really combat a corruption-ridden political order?

Kyrgyzstan’s acting President and Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov has proposed introducing a blockchain-based system to ensure fair elections in the near future and restore public faith in the democratic process. On Oct. 20, Japarov reportedly told Al-Jazeera television channel reporters: 

“We have had three revolutions because of unfair elections. If this continues, the unrest and the revolutions will continue. From now on, everything will be fair. I consulted with the Central Election Commission and offered them to introduce the blockchain technology. This system can be implemented in 3–6 months.”

Japarov had seized the levers of power to become Kyrgyzstan’s acting president on Oct. 14, amid a political crisis and bloody unrest that followed contested parliamentary elections 10 days earlier. 

A staunch nationalist opposition leader and former MP, Japarov (until this month’s post-election turmoil) had been serving an 11 and-a-half-year sentence for kidnapping a regional governor in 2013. He was released from his detention in the headquarters of the State Committee for National Security amid the riots and violent police clashes that followed the discredited elections.

Japarov was elected prime minister by the rump parliament that was convened on Oct. 7 and subsequently confirmed in the office on Oct. 14. The appointment was criticized amid allegations that Japarov-allied organized crime groups had used intimidation and “rowdy rallies” to exert their influence and direct the transfer of power. On Oct. 15, the discredited president and former incumbent Sooronbai Jeenbekov tendered his resignation and was replaced by Japarov as a caretaker president.

Japarov has since made clear his intentions to run as long-term president, though the existing Kyrgyz constitution bars interim presidents from running for office. To do so, a constitutional referendum would need to be held ahead of the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. 

Significantly, while blockchain technology may be on the table in a bid to improve trust in the integrity of the forthcoming elections, Kyrgyzstan has already implemented advanced technologies to support fair elections and prevent vote-rigging through practices such as ballot-stuffing. Voters in October’s election were required to have their fingerprints scanned before getting hold of a ballot, and voting slips were processed using an electronic scanner and server. 

The illegitimate practices that allegedly compromised this month’s election are not easily tackled by technological fixes. These include accusations that the country’s former political incumbents pressured government employees to vote in prescribed ways, required citizens to vote in specified precincts, introduced high thresholds for party representation, and used intimidation or bribery to buy votes in their favor.

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