Debate on external voting rages on

Kathmandu, July 22

The Supreme Court has ordered the government to enact new laws to ensure out-of-country voting from the next election, but the Election Commission is not sure whether that is feasible.

The Election Commission is preparing to finalise its external voting feasibility reports this week.   Election Commissioner Narendra Dahal is leading an EC steering committee to finalise the technical report submitted by EC Joint Secretary Girija Sharma-led panel on the feasibility of external voting. He said there were many questions that committee members would have to answer before recommending that the government enact laws to ensure external voting.

Dahal said the task force led by Sharma observed in its report that the percentage of voter-turnout in the countries allowing external voting was very low. “Online voting seems feasible given the requirement of spending huge management costs, but I am not sure how Nepali voters, particularly migrant workers, and political parties in the country will react,” he said.

He added that large number of migrant workers who were not proficient in using internet might not benefit from online system and political parties might also not okay it fearing its misuse.

Dahal said his committee might advise the government to carry out external voting as a pilot project to know its efficacy and feasibility.

“If we allow Nepalis living abroad to cast their votes in Nepali missions abroad, we do not know what the turnout will be because Nepalis live in different cities and not only in the capitals of foreign countries,” Dahal said. He said if the country decided to ensure external voting, it would also have to ensure the same provision for lakhs of Nepalis living in Indian cities.

“Ensuring external voting would depend on political parties’ consensus and the country’s willingness to spend huge amount that may be required to conduct out-of-country voting,” he said.

EC Joint Secretary Sharma said ensuring external voting could require huge amount. “If the government sends employees to foreign countries to update electoral rolls and conduct elections, then that will entail huge resources,” Sharma said. He added, “Ensuring external voting depends on the government’s willingness to spend huge resources.”

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Dhanraj Gyawali

said the ministry respected the SC’s verdict that ordered the government to ensure external voting, but the ministry could prepare the draft of a new bill only when it received report from the EC on what should be the system and process for ensuring external voting.

Nepali Congress Spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma said his party favoured voting right for Nepalis living abroad in line with the SC order. “Nepali nationals living abroad will feel emotional attachment with the country only when they can take part

in elections,” Sharma said. He added that the country would benefit immensely from Nepalis living abroad if external voting was allowed.

According to Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, external voting

is allowed by 115 countries and territories in the world.