Monday, January 20, 2014

Thailand to hold early elections in a bid to defuse tension

Tumultous is one word that has often been used to describe Thailand’s political landscape. To most observers, the Asian country has indeed experienced one too many upheavals for comfort. Subjected to the absolute rule of kings for centuries, Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 when the country’s elite staged a “democratic revolution.”

Yet the change in the form of government did little to quell the restiveness. Shortly thereafter, Thailand has been wracked with numerous coups, which often left the country under the rule of juntas and resulted to seventeen charter changes.

The instability came to a head last year, when anti-government forces led a series of occasionally-violent protests against Yingluck Shinawatra, the country’s first female Prime Minister and sister to exiled ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

In hopes of easing the rapidly escalating tension, the Prime Minister has called for early elections on February 2. The Election Commission has said that it is ready for Election Day, where the country’s estimated 46 million voters are set to elect 480 members of the House of Representatives. 

Yet things are never that easy in this deeply-divided country. The main opposition Democrat Party has said that it will boycott the polls. The party had demanded that the PM resign ahead of the elections and that an interim government be installed to effect reforms. The same position is being noisily advocated by protesters, which had been massing in crowds of as large as 150,000 warm bodies in the almost-weekly rallies since October. 

Opponents of the Shinawatras, which mostly come from the educated middle and upper class as well as the business sector, are calling to reboot Thai society to stamp out the culture of corruption that they believe is driving away business and hampering the development of the country

Yet the appeal has fallen on deaf ears as Yingluck has already declared that the polls will proceed despite the planned boycott. Instead, she unveiled her own plan to ensure reforms which involves candidates taking an oath to call for the creation of a reform council right after being sworn into office. Her suggestion also specifies that the reform council be made up of members representing a broad spectrum of sectors at local and national levels.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pakistan and NADRA, in the road to better elections

With over 180 million people calling it home, Pakistan is the sixth most populated country in the world and it is the second largest Muslim democracy after Indonesia. Given such proportions, running an election for the national assembly and for its four provincial assemblies is quite the daunting task. That’s one of the main reasons Pakistan is advancing the adoption of voting technology.

Just to give an example, the most recent general election, held in May 2013 saw over 86 million registered voters cast a vote. The election was held in 272 constituencies, making for a quite the logistical challenge for NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority), the autonomous and independent institution of the Pakistani government responsible for databases and sensitive registration information.

In order for Pakistan to continue improving the quality of future elections, NADRA is slowly introducing what it calls a “foolproof” e-voting machine system. This system is designed to “control rigging in the polls.” by authenticating voters via biometrics.

The identity of the voter is automatically verified biometrically before the voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot. The system is still a work in progress and will require further refinement, but NADRA’s, Chairman Tariq Malik, says that this will prevent any “bogus voting”. The sentiment is echoed by Muhammad Daheem of the Frontier Post who writes that the new system will “eliminate the element of fake vote casting and rigging of any type in elections.”

Biometric authentication of voters is the most reliable methodology to guarantee that voter impersonation becomes a thing of the past. Technologies like the one being developed in Pakistan approach these challenges head-on, providing a “foolproof” system that verifies the identity of voters.

Under the proposal, the refined thumb impression verifying e-voting machine would be placed at all polling stations across the country of Pakistan.

A key element in this system is the voter identification card, which is then checked against the fingerprints of voters as stored in the NADRA biometric database. Following verification through the Voter Identification Unit, the voter then proceeds to the Vote Casting Unit where the relevant constituency and list of candidates is displayed. Finally, the Result Management Unit can record and tally the votes accordingly. The computer-generated report can then be reconciled against the manual counting of printed ballots as needed.