RAM KUMAR KAMAT
KATHMANDU: Nepali migrants’ average annual contribution to national economy of 23 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product prompted the government to do the groundwork on how it could hold external voting, a process that would enable Nepalis living abroad to cast their vote in the general election from the countries where they work, but there is not much for them to cheer about.
Despite the Election Commission expediting work of external voting, the migrant workers will not be able to vote in the next general election.
The government recently decided to send three EC teams to South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines to study how these countries are conducting external voting.
Election Commissioner Ayodhi Prasad Yadav said Nepali migrant workers were going to work in foreign countries out of compulsion, and therefore, the government should enable them to vote from countries of their residence. Human rights activists view this development absolutely necessary for two reasons. First, it is in sync with government’s plan to turn voter ID card into biometric national ID card, and second, to prevent voters’ anger and frustration from mutating into social conflicts.
“Enabling migrants to vote also reflects their representation,” said Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, President of INHURED International.
Yadav said the EC had constituted a committee a few months ago to study all aspects of external voting. “We are yet to figure out how much it will cost,” he added.
Yadav maintained that external voting would entail a close cooperation between the EC, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, foreign-based Nepali missions and also the foreign governments. “If we have to hold external voting, migrant workers will have to complete voters’ registration which we can do only through the help of host governments. Voters are scattered everywhere and our embassies alone cannot sensitise them on the process,” Yadav said.
Siwakoti said the percentage of undocumented Nepali migrant workers is high, and therefore, the government has to enter some kind of agreement with foreign countries to ensure the participation of undocumented workers during the elections.
He added that enabling migrant voters to vote electronically, such as through internet and mobile phones, will help government save election cost.
Asked whether the EC was considering conducting external voting in India, the Gulf countries and Malaysia, where Nepali workers are stationed in greater percentage, Yadav said the EC could not be selective. “Selecting a few countries for external voting will be like holding election in populous areas and ignoring the thinly populated areas,” he reacted.
Sociologist Uddhab Pyakurel, who stayed in India for seven years, said the concept of external voting was developed in the first world where it is working perfectly.
“In the first world people do not normally choose dual citizenship. Our people, unlike them, tend to be the citizens of the host country after five to seven years of residence,” said Pyakurel, adding that the purpose of the external voting would be served only if voting right is limited to those who have not acquired dual citizenship.
“There is nothing to cheer about. Political parties are yet to make their position clear on the issue,” said Pyakurel.
Silwal said a majority of migrant workers were found to be left-oriented and thus the provision, if applied, could benefit communist parties more than other parties. External voting is expected to benefit around five million Nepali migrant workers.