Parties’ pledge of voting rights for Nepalis abroad remains an unfulfilled promisePolitical parties feel Nepalis living abroad hold a sway over their relatives here and can help influence elections by being a swing factor.
Major political parties of the country have promised to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad in the elections to be held after five years in the hope they would persuade their family members and relatives in Nepal into supporting certain parties or candidates.
Political parties feel Nepalis living abroad hold a sway over their family and friends living here and they can help influence elections by being a swing factor.
But election commissioners and even the party leaders are not sure whether they could arrange for such a mechanism given the complexity of ensuring voting by Nepali expatriates spread across the world.
“It’s not possible unless all the political parties exhibit strong commitment, work hard and draft necessary laws,” said Bhojraj Pokharel, a former chief election commissioner. “There must be a foolproof system to ensure that the votes reach their intended destinations and all the parties must have trust in it.”
Some leaders of major political parties admitted that they have had to make these promises because millions of Nepalis living abroad have their kin back in Nepal and they could convince them to vote for their candidates.
“Many of our voters are influenced by their kin and relatives living abroad,” said Risha Shrestha, a candidate of Lalitpur 2 (A) representing Nepali Congress and supported by the ruling coalition. “So, it’s important for us to reach out to Nepalis abroad to ensure we get their family’s votes.”
On June 21, both the general secretaries of the Nepali Congress had urged the Election Commission to ensure that Nepalis living abroad get an opportunity to exercise their adult franchise in the November 20 polls.
Congress general secretaries Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma visited Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya and asked him to make necessary arrangements to ensure the voting rights of Nepalis living abroad. They also asked the commission to respect the Supreme Court’s order in this regard.
However, by the time the two Congress leaders drew the commission’s attention, it was too late. Therefore, the commission had no option other than to turn down their ‘wishful’ proposal, said an official.
In 2018, the Supreme Court had issued a directive to the government, parliament and the commission to make necessary arrangements to ensure voting rights for all the Nepali citizens living abroad.
A division bench of justices Sapana Malla Pradhan and Purushottam Bhandari had issued the order.
The bench ordered the government to guarantee voting rights to non-resident Nepalis either through representatives, postal services or by means of electronic voting on the premises of Nepali missions—whichever that could ensure secret voting in a free, fair and cost-effective way.
Political leaders argue that the government must acknowledge the role of the citizens working abroad, whose contribution has become a lifeline mainly for the country’s economy, by making it possible for them to vote.
By current estimates, nearly four million Nepali citizens are believed to be living in different countries, either for work or study.
In its manifesto ahead of the 2017 polls, Nepali Congress had promised to ensure voting rights to Nepalis living abroad within the next 10 years. However, the then the left alliance of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre had not spoken anything about arranging for the voting rights of Nepalis living abroad.
This time major parties including the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre have promised to ensure voting rights to non-resident Nepalis. Also, other fringe parties, including the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Swatantra Party have made that pledge.
The ruling coalition leader Nepali Congress has promised to make decisive efforts to ensure voting rights for Nepali citizens abroad within five years, through an electronic system.
The Maoist Centre has stated that it would ensure voting rights for Nepalis abroad by the next local polls.
However, the CPN-UML has not said anything in its manifesto about the voting rights of Nepalis living abroad. Its leaders have said that parties are taking up this matter only for some ‘cheap publicity,’ because it’s extremely difficult to make such arrangements in terms of resources, and security.
“It’s good for the parties to make a promise for cheap publicity, but its implementation aspect seems extremely complicated,” said Gagan Bista, secretary at the Publicity Department of the CPN-UML.
Former chief election commissioner Pokharel also had a similar opinion. He, however, added that nothing is impossible, if all the political parties have a strong commitment towards it.
Pokharel said three important issues were crucial in ensuring the voting rights of Nepalis abroad—political commitment of the parties, drafting necessary laws and arranging necessary resources.
“Political leaders must show commitment to implementing such promises in the true sense for which they must pave the way by endorsing necessary laws within the first year after the polls,” said Pokharel. “Government must also ensure there are sufficient resources for this. But, the parties have not yet even assessed the possible costs.”
The parties seemed not much committed to the same in the previous years as they had not taken Nepalis working and studying abroad as one of the factors influencing votes back in their home constituencies. Earlier, politicians took NRNs lightly as some non-serious groups making irresponsible comments on social media. But now, even the leaders from major parties have sensed a “threat from the constituency outside the country.” They realised that mainly after the surprising victory of independent candidates in the recent local polls such as Balen Shah in Kathmandu Metropolitan City and Harka Sangpang in Dharan Municipality.
Directly connected digitally with their family, friends and other familiar people, the Nepali youths working or studying abroad have started to actively engage ahead of the elections and in other social campaigns as well. Therefore, the candidates have now started to get connected with Nepali citizens living abroad.
“If the parties could manage all necessary arrangements, five years is sufficient to make preparations for this,” said Pokharel of the plan to have Nepalis living abroad getting their chance to vote. “But, it would need extensive training and educating people involved in the voting process.”
Another former chief election commissioner, Neilkantha Uprety, also said that voting could be made possible through the internet but that needs a strong commitment from all the stakeholders— the Election Commission as well as all political parties.
"It seems that the political parties are not ready to allow voting rights for the Nepalis living abroad," said Uprety. "If they were truly committed, the country could have prepared some mechanism for their voting by now."
He said first of all there must be a law and then the Election Commission can publish the voters' list, collecting data of passports from the Foreign Ministry and along with that, the work permission granted by the Labour Ministry.