Ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad, SC tells government

Kathmandu, September 2

The Supreme Court has stated that it is the duty of the government to enable every citizen living in the country or abroad to vote in elections.

This was stated today in the full text of the order passed in a case filed by Advocate Prem Chandra Rai against the government and the Election Commission. A division bench of justices Sapana Pradhan Malla and Purushottam Bhandari quashed the petition but issued directive orders to the government on March 21.

The apex court ordered the government to immediately register a bill to ensure external voting from the next elections.

The SC stated that although the petitioner demanded external voting only for migrant labourers, the government, however, needed to ensure external voting for all Nepalis living abroad, including students, business persons and those working for INGOs. The bench ordered the government to ensure external voting for Nepalis who had not taken citizenship of foreign countries, have attained the age of 18 years, have obtained voter identity cards and whose names have been updated by the concerned Nepali missions abroad.

The SC stated that the government should interact with political parties and civil society before deciding whether postal voting or electronic voting would be feasible for Nepalis living abroad. It added that the government could pilot test the system to ensure its feasibility.

The court added that the constitution had protected the right to vote as a constitutional and fundamental right and the government should respect that.

The court observed that legal and constitutional provisions did not make it mandatory for citizens to remain in the country to exercise their voting right. Therefore, it is against the right to equality to deprive Nepali citizens living aboard of their voting rights, the SC added.  It is unjustifiable for the state that benefits from remittances sent by migrant labourers to deny them their voting right just because they are staying abroad, the SC observed in its order.

“Depriving a large chunk of the country’s population from the election process not only denies them their voting right, but also raises question on the impartiality and sanctity of elections,” the SC observed in its order. The SC observed that countries around the world had ensured voting rights for their citizens living abroad.