KATHMANDU, March 23: The Supreme Court has ordered the government to ensure the voting rights of Nepali migrant workers.
Responding to public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a group of lawyers, a division bench of Justices Sapana Pradhan Malla and Purushottam Bhandari on Wednesday issued a directive to this effect.
The Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, other ministries concerned including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Election Commission (EC) have been ordered to ensure the exercise of the vote by millions of Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf and other countries.
Nepali migrants living and working in various foreign countries have been unable to vote as no preparations and legal arrangements are in place for them to register and participate in polls.
There has been no progress in the efforts begun ahead of the 2008 constituent assembly elections to enable Nepali migrants working in 110 different foreign countries to cast their ballots.
With a view to enabling Nepalis working, pursuing higher studies or engaging in business abroad to cast their votes, the EC had begun discussions since before 2008, but to no avail.
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 2012 to study the feasibility of voter registration and voting by Nepalis in those countries. The team, which included senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labor and the EC, gave their suggestions about the possibility of 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 here or the election body, according to the officials concerned.
The government has issued permission to date to more than 3.8 million Nepalis to work abroad. This number does not include Nepalis in India. As many as three million of them are said to work in India as seasonal labor, according to experts on migration.
Despite widespread demands by stakeholders to address the issue, no further steps have been taken. The term of the nation-wide voter registration campaign expires next week and the newly endorsed Voter Registration Act is silent regarding voting by the Nepali diaspora.
Nepal is considered to be lagging far behind in terms of the voting rights of its migrant workers.
Bhutan has enabled its citizens abroad to vote since 2008, while Afghanistan did likewise since 2004. The Maldives has also ensured voting rights for its migrant workers.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and India have granted their citizens the right to register with their respective election commissions although they have to return home to cast their votes.
Election Commissioner Narendra Dahal said the election body will now begin consultations on how it can ensure the voting rights of migrant workers. "Since the apex court has issued its order we must prioritize this issue," said Dahal.
The Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice (LAPSOJ) had filed the PIL at the apex court on 27 April 2017.