The constitution confers on all Nepalis over 18 years of age the right to vote in any one electoral constituency in the country. Yet around four million of them were denied a vote in the last electoral cycle in 2017. Electoral laws required that you be present in person if you wanted to vote. As this option was often unavailable for migrants, they were, in a way, disenfranchised. This is why the Supreme Court order to the government to arrange for Nepali migrants abroad to vote in elections in Nepal is timely. For a remittance-dependent country, it was criminal to deny those living and working abroad, Nepal’s lifeblood, their inalienable right to adult franchise.
But while the apex court decision is laudable, it will not be easy to implement. The first thing that the Election Commission must do is find out exactly how many Nepali citizens are living abroad. With Nepalis now scattered all over the world, this will be challenging. In that case, perhaps a start can be made by making voting arrangements for those who show an active interest in exercising their franchise. But even this is easier said. How does the commission find out if they have already renounced their Nepali citizenships, in which case they can’t vote?
There are many other technical and logistical hurdles. But if it was impossible, 110 countries would not be doing it. There is a growing realization that in a world that is getting more and more integrated thanks to the rapid growth of information technology and easier travel, it is both immoral and impractical to deny the legitimate citizens of a particular country their fundamental right to vote.
As the Nepali government is now under legal obligation to act likewise, and as it is a complicated issue, it may not be a bad idea to constitute a team of experts to suggest feasible ways. Thankfully, the next round of elections are not scheduled for years. The focus over the next few years should thus be on allowing maximum number of Nepalis abroad to vote rather than piloting the idea among select communities. There is enough time.
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