KATHMANDU, Feb 4: Millions of Nepali migrants living and working in various foreign countries are not likely to be able to vote in upcoming elections, as no legal arrangements and preparations are in place for them to register and participate in the polls.
There has been no progress in efforts begun since ahead of the 2008 constituent assembly elections to enable millions of Nepali migrants working in 110 different countries of the world to cast their votes.
“We cannot ensure that they will be able to vote this time. It is not possible. That's why we should think about . the future,” said Chief Election Commissioner Ayodhee Prasad Yadav when asked what plans the Election Commission (EC) had to enable migrant workers to cast their ballots.
The country has to hold local, provincial and central-level elections by January 2018, as per provisions in the new constitution.
With a view to enabling Nepalis working, studying or engaging in business abroad to cast their vote, the EC had began discussions ahead of the 2008 CA election, but to no avail.
Later, a high-level team headed by then election commissioner Ram Bhakta PV Thakur visited the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in July 2012 to study the feasibility of voter registration and voting by Nepalis in those countries. The committee, which included senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labor and the EC, had suggested possibilities for registering the scattered migrant workers and enabling them to vote.
During the team's visit, Saudi Arabia and Qatar had agreed to support voter registration and voting arrangements for Nepali workers. But no concrete action was taken by the government and the election body, according to officials concerned.
“Obviously, out of country voter registration is not easy but the EC should not overlook the vote of millions of Nepalis who have helped shore up our economy,” said former chief election commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety adding, “The commission, however, cannot give priority to this issue.”
The government has issued permissions for more than 3.8 million Nepalis to date to work abroad. This number does not include Nepalis in India. As many as three million of them are said to work there as seasonal labor according to experts on migrant.
Despite widespread demands by stakeholders to address the issue, no steps have been taken. The term of the nation-wide voter registration campaign that was started with upcoming local elections in mind expires next week and the newly endorsed Voter Registration Act is silent regarding voting by the Nepali diaspora. “We have failed to even recognize the diaspora's voting right. The law is completely silent on this,” said Uprety.
Nepal is considered to be lagging far behind in terms of the voting rights of its migrant workers.
Bhutan has been enabling its citizen outside the country to vote since 2008, while Afghanistan had done the same since 2004. Maldives has also ensured voting rights for its migrant workers.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have granted the right to get registered with their election commissions although they have to return home to cast their votes.