Even four years after the Supreme Court issued a directive order to the government to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad, the government has not done anything.

It has not even drafted a new election bill to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad.

Issuing a directive order in 2018, the Supreme Court had stated that it was the duty of the government to enable every citizen living in the country or abroad to vote in elections. This was stated today in an 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 had quashed Rai's petition, but issued directive orders to the government.

The apex court ordered the government to immediately register a bill to ensure external voting or out-of-country voting from the next elections.

The SC stated that although the petitioner had demanded external voting only for migrant labourers, the government needed to ensure external voting for all Nepalis living abroad, including students, business persons and those working for INGOs.

Election Commissioner Ram Prasad Bhandari said the EC was ready to implement the court order, but the government had not enacted laws to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living in foreign countries.

Advocate Rai, who had moved the court earlier, said the main reason why the government did not make any attempt to enact laws to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad was that they did not consider Nepalis living abroad as their vote bank.

"Parties concentrate on Nepal because they think they can easily influence voters, they are not concerned about Nepalis living abroad because they think the Nepali diaspora cannot be influenced easily,"

Rai added.

Vice-chairperson of National Election Observation Committee Kapil Shrestha said that his organisation and some other organisations had jointly submitted a memorandum to the government reminding it of the need to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad, but the government had not enacted any law. "We are going to submit another memorandum soon," he said, " I hope that the government ensures voting rights for Nepalis living abroad from the federal parliamentary elections this year." Prof Shrestha said political parties were not very keen on ensuring voting rights for Nepalis living abroad mainly because they wanted to maintain the status quo. "Parties do not seem eager to do new things. The Philippines and Myanmar have already ensured external voting, but we are still not ready to do the same," he added.

Prof Shrestha said it was bizarre that even the court order was ignored by the government.

He said if the government wanted, it could easily ensure external voting at least in those countries where Nepal had diplomatic missions and where Nepali migrant workers were largely concentrated.

Adviser of People's Forum for Human Rights-Nepal Shom Prasad Luitel said that major parties were not keen to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad because they feared that this group of voters, who are critical of major parties, would not vote for them. "Migrant workers are more critical of major parties and they have a tendency of favouring smaller parties and alternative political forces.

That is the main reason why major parties are reluctant to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad," he added.

Luitel said that if voting rights were ensured for Nepalis living abroad, voters would make the government and the parties accountable. "Parties will also have to travel to major workers' destination to solicit votes," he added.

As per the new census data, around 2.1 million Nepalis live and work in foreign countries.

One-hundred-and-fifteen countries and territories in the world have followed the out-of-country voting system.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 21, 2022, of The Himalayan Times