Prime minister renews voting pledge to Nepali citizens residing abroadExperts say enabling Nepali citizens working or studying abroad to exercise their franchise is easier said than done.
On Friday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal reiterated that the government will ensure the voting rights of Nepalis living abroad.
Addressing his party’s internal programme, the prime minister said the provision would enable hundreds of thousands of Nepalis to exercise their franchise.
“We fought for the rights of all Nepali people and now we are working to ensure voting rights of those living abroad,” Om Sharma, chairman of the Prawas (abroad) Coordination Committee of the CPN (Maoist Centre), quoted Dahal as saying at the virtual interaction on Friday. “We are also working to ensure the safety of all the Nepalis abroad”
The prime minister also urged them to attract investment in Nepal.
Stating that the remittances sent by Nepalis has been playing a key role in sustaining the country’s economy, Dahal said the government wants to ensure their voting rights they very much deserve.
The remittances contributing to the foreign exchange reserves to sustain imports for 11 months in itself is an indication of improvement in our economy, Prime Minister Dahal said at the interaction on Friday night.
As they are well aware that millions of Nepalis living abroad for work and study can sway the results of the elections here in the home country, political parties all the time promise them voting rights. Experts, however, say that would be a difficult and expensive affair.
Some experts also argued that political parties won’t allow the voting rights to those living abroad as they know more than others that such a provision would be suicidal to some of the major political forces.
“Even without voting rights, Nepalis abroad have started to influence voting patterns–to ditch traditional parties while working in favour of newer ones–by convincing their kin back home,” said a CPN-UML leader asking not to be named. “I don’t think major parties would agree on that so quickly unless they are under extreme pressure as they all know such a move could be suicidal.”
The Election Commission has been preparing a draft of an integrated law incorporating all the election laws together which also includes the provision to ensure the voting rights of the Nepalis living abroad besides the provision of NOTA (none of the above) and the use of electronic voting machines.
“I think the commission can send the draft of the integrated election law to the home ministry within a week,” said Surya Prasad Aryal, assistant spokesperson for the Election Commission. “We have also included the much-awaited provision of allowing Nepalis living abroad to vote, among other new provisions, in the integrated law.”
Currently, experts including Madhav Poudel, former chair of Nepal Law Commission, and Tirthaman Shakya, a former chief secretary, have been going through a clause-wise review of the draft.
Though the issue of allowing Nepalis abroad to vote pleases ears, it is a difficult task to ensure given the way Nepalis are scattered all over the world.
“It’s easier said than done,” said Aryal, the assistant spokesperson at the commission. “We all understand that the real intentions of the leaders of the major parties often contradict with what they actually say in public.”
Prior to the polls, both general secretaries of the Nepali Congress—Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma—had urged the Election Commission to ensure that Nepalis living abroad get an opportunity to exercise their franchise in the November 20 polls.
On June 21 last year, Thapa and Sharma visited Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya and asked him to make necessary arrangements to enable Nepalis living abroad to vote. But it wasn’t possible this time and many took their eleventh-hour plea as nothing more than a political stunt.
However, the commission is also bound to honour the Supreme Court’s order on the issue.
In 2018, the court directed the government, Parliament and the commission to make arrangements necessary to ensure the voting rights of all Nepali citizens living abroad.
A division bench of justices Sapana Pradhan Malla and Purushottam Bhandari had issued the order.
The bench ordered the government to guarantee voting rights either through their representatives, postal services or by means of electronic voting on the premises of Nepali missions abroad—whichever 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 abroad, whose contribution has become a lifeline mainly for the country’s economy, by making their votes count.
According to the latest census report, around 2.2 million Nepali citizens are living in foreign countries, for work or study.
In its manifesto for the 2017 polls, the ruling Nepali Congress had promised to guarantee Nepalis staying abroad their voting rights within 10 years. However, the left alliance of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre was silent on their voting rights.
During the November 20 polls last year, major parties including the Congress and the Maoist Centre promised to ensure voting rights to non-resident Nepalis. Also, other fringe parties such as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Swatantra Party had made that pledge.
Congress, the largest party in the current coalition, had promised to make decisive efforts to guarantee the voting right of Nepali citizens abroad within five years, through an electronic system while the Maoist Centre that leads the government had stated that it would make the arrangements by the next local level polls.
Former chief election commissioner Bhojraj Pokharel said the Election Commission had included a feasibility study for allowing Nepalis living out of the country to vote in its first strategic plan in 2009.
Pokharel recalls that the leaders had promised their sister wings based in various parts of the world to ensure their voting rights as early as 2008 but they never worked towards that end.
“It’s not feasible for the Election Commission to use ballot papers in foreign centres but if political parties really want, they can manage online voting within the next four years,” Pokharel told the Post. “But continuing to promise without focusing on setting up the required infrastructure would only mean lying to the people once again.”