Hospitals experience disruptions on extended doctors' walkout
Parents of 7 first to receive W10m for childbirth in Seoul
G7 leaders decry N. Korea's exports of ballistic missiles to Russia
Occult thriller 'Exhuma' reaches 1m ticket sales in record time
Medical grads abandon internships, robbing hospitals of respite hopes
[Weekender] Discover the joys of life without a smartphone
Two students of Priest Lee Tae-seok become medical specialists
Enjoy Danyang with unique cafes and dynamic activities
SK bioscience's typhoid conjugate vaccine wins WHO prequalification certification
[AtoZ into Korean mind] Death & denial: Why Koreans refuse to contemplate the end
Oman transitions to digital voting
E-voting boosts voter engagement, but political disinterest persistsBy Son Ji-hyoung
Published : Oct. 31, 2023 - 15:49
MUSCAT, Oman -- Oman has seen a surge in voter turnout following the implementation of an electronic voting system Sunday, allowing its citizens to use mobile apps to cast ballots remotely for new members of Parliament.
At the same time, the election has left Oman's powerful monarchy, headed by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, with room for further improvement in terms of civic engagement.
Sunday's election recorded a 65.88 percent voter turnout, as nearly 500,000 out of the nation's 753,260 registered voters cast their ballot for candidates vying for 90 seats in the lower house of Oman's Parliament, called the Shura Council.
The vote marked the highest voter participation rate in 12 years.
A 2011 election for a four-year lower house of the Council of Oman had a 77 percent voter turnout, reflecting Omani citizens' hope in the aftermath of the Arab Spring pro-democracy protests that swept the Middle East.
Voter participation, however, has since diminished over time. The turnout in 2015 came to 57 percent, out of some 612,000 registered voters. The rate fell yet again to 49 percent in 2019, out of some 713,000 registered voters.
For this year's election, the number of those who cast their vote increased by roughly 150,000 compared to the previous election, while the number of registered voters surged by around 40,000.
The improvement in voter turnout "is a good indicator and evidence of their awareness of participating in the election," said Mohammed Al-Balushi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Information and chairman of the Media Committee for Electing Members of the Shura Council, in a briefing Monday.
Sunday's vote was Oman's second nationwide election to take place electronically, following the municipal election in December 2022.
Supporting the electronic election were apps Intikhab, used to register as a voter, and Antakhib, used to cast a vote. The processes of candidacy registration, voters' social engagement and vote counting were also conducted digitally.
Intikhab and Antakhib boast a range of innovative technologies, including a wireless mobile technology of so-called near field communication, used to read the photos of eligible voters' ID cards and verify voter identification, as well as audio reading features and sign language support for people with disabilities.
The digitization process was also augmented by artificial technology to offer voters a comprehensive statistical picture of the electoral process and hourly updates of the outcome, according to the Omani government.
"The programs used in voting were largely transparent, as there was no human intervention at all," said Sheikh Al-Mukhtar bin Abdullah Al-Harithi, chairman of the Supreme Committee for Shura Elections.
As another means of assuring transparency, Omani election authorities opened up the possibility for an election outcome to be overturned in case any injustices occurred, based on the results of digital monitoring.
The Omani government said it began accepting appeals over the election outcome and alleged rule violation from Monday, and will continue to accept them for 10 days via the electronic system. A committee decision over the complaints will be made within 15 days from the date of the appeal, according to Al-Harithi.
"Some violations were monitored during the course of the electoral process through the communications center, and they are allegations," Al-Harithi said.
"The Supreme Committee has not yet received any appeals, and time is still open (for submissions)."
According to Oman's 2023 yearbook, the digitalization of tools and procedures governing the election process was enshrined as part of Oman’s Vision 2040 development objectives, which showed a mobile penetration rate of around 95 percent.
Talal Al-Saadi, secretary of the Election Committee and undersecretary of the Interior Ministry, said that ensuring transparency in an election, social participation and individuals' right to vote are the foundation for Oman's Vision 2040 initiative.
Through digital transformation, the number of staff dedicated to the electoral process was reduced from 8,000 to 500, while no polling stations were installed in the country. In contrast, 110 polling stations were set up in the previous election, according to the Ministry of Interior, the ministry in charge of the development of the election app.
"Citizens or voters (found electoral centers to be) so far away (from home. ... Some people said they (had a hard time reaching them). But nowadays ... (the) online (app) doesn't require any of this," said Sumaya Al-Balushi, an official from Oman's Interior Ministry.
"Before, we (did elections on) paper and (we needed) time to go (to the polls)," said Sultan al-Kalbani, a 38-year-old Omani voter who works at a private company that is no longer required to grant voters paid leave.
"Now, (there is) no need for that. I (was) sitting in (my) office and I (voted at the) office. ... I needed only two-three minutes."
All eyes are on whether the introduction of the electronic voting system could help the Sultanate further boost civic engagement.
According to Al-Saadi, about half of those who have the right to vote went through the registration process for the electronic vote.
But Al-Saadi added that registering as a voter is done on a voluntary basis and is not obligatory. As such, there is no mandatory quota for voter registration.
Meanwhile, some Omani citizens expressed their disinterest in politics.
"(Council members) can't do anything. They don't have (much power) to change things," said an Omani man who identified himself as Marwan.
Oman's absolute monarchy bans the formation of political parties or organized political opposition, either of which is subject to criminal punishment. Consequently, all council members are considered independent.
Moreover, improvements in Parliament's level of power to make laws remained stalled. Freedom House, a US nonprofit, suggested in its Freedom in the World 2022 report that Oman's national council "has no legislative powers and can only recommend changes to new laws," categorizing the country as "not free" in terms of political freedom.
"Before, when somebody (voted) for these people, they (could) help us, they (could) do something. But now, no. There is no use. It's not like before," said an Omani woman who declined to be named and revealed that she did not vote.
"Why would we have to vote? He would not do anything for us."
Medical grads abandon internships, robbing hospitals of respite hopes
Death & denial: Why Koreans refuse to contemplate the end
Anti-Yoon vs anti-establishment: Main parties’ election strategies take shape