A large number of Nepalis are living and working in different parts of the world. The money they earn is sent back to Nepal in the form of remittance. And this remittance is serving as the lifeline of the country’s economy. However, staying away from home has prevented them from exercising their voting right, one of the most important rights. This is a realisation that has given birth to the idea of external voting in the country.
In 2018, a Public Interest Litigation (PLI) was filed at the Supreme Court (SC), demanding voting rights for citizens living abroad. In response, a division bench of justices issued a verdict, instructing the government to ensure the voting right of Nepalis living abroad. The SC also ordered the government to immediately register a bill to implement the decision. However, more than three years have passed and no development has happened up until now.
The local level elections are slated for May 13. With this, the hidden issue of external voting has come to the surface. In a recent interview, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) said that the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) is working to formulate a law with a provision that will facilitate Nepalis living abroad to vote in the elections in their home country. According to the CEC, the election body has lately received the government’s approval to formulate an integrated law for all polls.
This kind of commitment is crucial as elections and voting are all about equal participation. Basically, we vote to choose our representatives who will work for us. If migrant workers living abroad cannot cast their votes, in no way will the election be inclusive and participatory. There will be a high chance for them to be misrepresented. Looking at the amount of support they provide to the country, the Nepali workers should not be ignored and their needs should be addressed. And the provision for external voting is the only way for their proper and inclusive representation.
External voting is a common practice in many countries around the world. According to reports, 115 nations worldwide have been collecting votes through external voting besides the ballot voting done within the country. In the context of South Asia, Bhutan, the Maldives and Afghanistan allow their citizens to vote from abroad. Nepal should also follow suit to ensure effectiveness in terms of voting.
Managing this kind of voting facility can be easy only when a proper mechanism is in place. Without such a system, the plan of external voting cannot move forward. Technology-wise, Nepal is moving at a slow pace. The government is working on improving its e-governance system through the use of information and communication technology (ICT). The ECN should also make use of necessary technology to facilitate external voting.
Other relevant stakeholders such Nepali embassies abroad, NGOs/INGOs and Nepali diaspora community should come together to materialise the idea of external voting. Without the collaborative efforts of all of these actors, the government alone cannot enforce the plan in any way. Thus, external voting must be made the next priority of the government and the ECN.