The missing millions

  • A comparison of census and Election Commission data shows hordes of lost voters
- Sanjay Sharma

Dec 19, 2017-

With the historical elections over, Nepal now has a complete set of newly elected representatives from the local to the federal levels. The key to elections and democracy is participation and representation of all social groups. However, like all other systems, democracy has its inherent hurdles. Democracy is a numbers game, and not everyone is allowed to or is willing to speak. By comparing the 2011 census data with the 2017 data from the Election Commission, Nepal (ECN), the number of lost voters, especially young women, and the problems in the government data management system, can be seen.

One of the technical aspects of being able to vote involves having one’s name in the voter list and possessing a voter identity card. During this election, the ECN leniently allowed anyone enrolled in the voter list to cast their ballots if they produced any government issued identification. However, the ECN wasn’t kind enough to let many Nepalis who were outside the country on Election Day and those who were not on the voter list to vote. 

In fact, the comparative data of the 2011 census and the ECN’s total number of voters by gender and age group shows millions missing. To prove my argument, I have taken the data for the ‘default’ age categories 18-24, 25-40, 41-60, 61-74 and 75 years and more from the ECN. These figures are for 2017. 

Similarly, I took the data for the age categories 12-18, 19-34, 35-54, 55-68 and 69 years and more from the census conducted six years ago in 2011 so that I could draw parallels. A person aged 12 years in the 2011 census will reach 18 years of age in 2017, and therefore, should be able to vote. The categories have been constructed in that manner.

Losing millions

While it is obvious that the number of registered voters is less than the number of individuals in the census, the difference between the two is startling. There were 19,347,354 individuals aged 12 years and above in Nepal in 2011. However, the total number of registered voters for 2017 was only 15,427,938. This means that nearly 4 million individuals, or 20 percent, went missing. Migration and death could be the most obvious reasons, but they are not a sufficient answer to explain this extraordinarily high number. When 3 percent (approximately 300,000 individuals) of the total votes cast is the threshold to be able to have a member in the House of Representatives, 4 million is a big number.

Moreover, age and gender differences make this further problematic. In total, nearly 2.5 million women and 1.5 million men are missing. Of the total, more than 2.3 million individuals are from the age group 18-24 years. This includes nearly 1 million men and more than 1.3 million women.

The number of individuals who have gone for foreign employment in the meantime has also increased significantly. As per the data maintained by the Department of Foreign Employment, nearly 2.3 million labour permits were issued between the fiscal years 2011-12 and 2015-16. Among the recipients, nearly 2.2 million (about 95 percent) were men. 

Similarly, the Ministry of Education issued about 150,000 No Objection Letters between the fiscal years 2011-12 and 2016-17. Only about one-third of them were issued to women. It should be kept in mind that these numbers are only indicative of the migration flow and do not comprise the whole. The government has no proper migration-related data management system. Furthermore, there are no statistics of people going to India. The missing case of 2.5 million women is largely unexplained by the official statistics.

Strengthening democracy

For the beauty of democracy to continue, the voices of the people should be brought to the forefront. The government should immediately make sure that more and more individuals are registered to vote. Voter registration and voting rights should also be extended to those who are abroad. Moreover, if a high number of individuals choose not to register as voters, and therefore, not to vote, the case for our democracy is worrisome. When the voices of such a large number of voters, that too of young men and women, are taken away, democracy is weakened at its roots. 

Furthermore, as marriage-led migration is very high for women, the bureaucratic hassles of re-registering at the new location should be eliminated. The government should have one data management and record keeping system that works for all or most purposes. If you already have a citizenship certificate, you shouldn’t have to go to the ECN again to put your name on the voter list. In addition, people’s access to government services might be limited, and they might not always want to interact with the bureaucracy. These are crucial to democracies.

Sharma is a student of political science (@chaupaari)

Published: 19-12-2017 08:17

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