Leave no one outUnless Nepalis abroad renounce their citizenship, they should get to take part in the democratic exercise.
All Nepali citizens above 18 have the right to vote, including the 4 million who are currently working or studying abroad. But they will not get to exercise their franchise on November 20 because Nepal does not have absentee voting. True, arranging for them to do so is a big logistical and financial challenge. Yet the main reason they will not be voting this time has more to do with lack of political commitment. Otherwise, either the government or the sovereign Parliament would have commissioned a study to evaluate such an arrangement. This is partly because of old stereotypes. Nepali political actors have traditionally believed that most Nepalis abroad were not interested in political events back home; and even if some were, they would make no difference whatsoever in the election outcome. Both assumptions have turned out to be wrong. If anything, Nepali expatriates follow their native country’s politics more keenly than many folks back home. Doing so is one way they maintain that emotional connection with their homeland. Also, migrants abroad increasingly shape the political beliefs of their kith and kin in the old country.
But in the larger picture, that is besides the point. Nepali migrant workers, who are the lifeblood of the country’s economy, deserve a chance to choose the political representatives who manage the money they send back home. More than that, unless Nepali citizens renounce their citizenship, all of them should get to take part in their country’s all-important democratic exercise. At a time when Nepalis are not only scattered all over the world but also increasingly united by technology, limiting adult franchise to those living inside the country’s borders is anachronistic. If the political class is serious about including them, multiple options can be explored. For instance, those outside can participate through representatives, absentee ballots or online voting. Putting a system in place initially might be a touch costly; but once there is one, routinely updating it should not be that big a burden on the national exchequer.
Albeit for their self-interest, political parties are waking up to the political importance of the Nepali populations outside the country’s borders. They have in the past few years talked about giving voting powers to migrants. A couple of months ago, some top political leaders even approached the Election Commission to arrange for absentee population voting, but then it was already too late. If the political parties are committed to broadening the scope of Nepali democracy, the time to start working on it would be right after the end of the current electoral cycle. Those who have been directly involved in electioneering in Nepal as well as other parts of the world reckon having a voting system for adult Nepali migrants is very much possible, even if a little complicated. With enough commitment, they say, there is no reason why Nepal cannot have a system up and running in five years. Hopefully, by the time the next round of elections rolls around, Nepalis abroad will not have to wistfully look on as their friends and relatives back home line up to cast their ballots.