SC orders govt to ensure migrants’ right to vote

Petitioner argues that the voting right will bring parties’ attention to Nepalis working abroad, who complain of state neglect

Mar 23, 2018-The Supreme Court has issued a directive ordering the government to draft a law enabling Nepalis abroad to vote.

Responding to a public interest litigation (PIL), a division bench of Justices Sapana Pradhan Malla and Purushottam Bhandari issued the directive order to the authorities on Wednesday.

The issue of external voting right of Nepali migrant workers, which has been a subject of discussion for long, appears to have got some attention with the court’s latest order issued in the name of the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers and the ministries concerned.

The Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice (LAPSOJ) had filed the PIL at the apex court on 27 April 2017, seeking a legal instrument to ensure “external voting” apparatuses for upholding the voting right of Nepali citizens abroad. The SC had issued a show-cause notice on May 4, 2017.

According to Barun Ghimire, programme manager at the LAPSOJ, the order is a landmark in securing the voting right of migrant workers, who are often neglected by the state.

“Millions of them are working in foreign lands in deplorable conditions. Problems facing them go largely unheeded. If they get a chance to vote, the political parties, wishing to grab their votes, may start talking about them loudly and protecting their rights,” said Ghimire, who also argued before the bench alongside advocates Hari Phuyal, Anurag Devkota, Alok Pokharel and Kedar Dahal on behalf of the organisation filing the PIL.

According to government statistics, more than 4 million Nepalis are living and working in different parts of the globe. A vast majority of them are concentrated in the Gulf and Malaysia, sending home billions of rupees in 

remittance. However, the election regulations require citizens to cast their votes from their official place of residence, disenfranchising migrant workers.

Despite contributing hugely to the country’s GDP, Ghimire argues, the government has long been oblivious to migrant workers’ concerns.

“The rise in foreign labour migration has a snowball effect on national economy. However, the government has largely failed to follow up on implementation of its own laws and policies, meant for protecting Nepali workers abroad,” said Ghimire, calling the decision timely as the country will have at least four years before next round of elections.

Enabling migrant workers to take part in public affairs and choose their own representatives through remote voting has been on the agenda for long. Ahead of the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008, the Election Commission had conducted a feasibility study on Nepali voters’ registration in the Gulf and other countries, where a significant number of Nepalis work, study and live.

Four years later, a high-level team visited major Gulf countries in a bid to study the possibility of enfranchising Nepalis there. But no progress was seen on this front.

According to Ghimire, 110 countries—including 28 African countries—respect the voting right of their migrant citizens. “Some allow postal voting while others have installed voting booths at their embassies,” he said.

In South Asia, Bhutan, the Maldives and Afghanistan allow their citizens to vote from abroad whereas India, Pakistan and Bangladesh accept voter registration from abroad even if citizens have to visit the country for the poll.

Published: 23-03-2018 07:28

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