Persons with intellectual disabilities continue to be deprived of their right to vote. States should adopt all measures to effectively guarantee the right to political participation for persons with disability
Persons with disabilities, especially those dealing with intellectual disabilities, are doubly marginalised – first by poverty and then by social and economic exclusion. Negative social attitudes and prejudice towards disability have ensured relatively low prioritisation of national resources towards disability intervention and fuelled extreme exclusion for the average individual with disability.
It is not uncommon for existence of disability to be blamed because of past wrongdoing by the parents or by the persons with disabilities themselves. In some remote parts of Nepal, people with intellectual disabilities are not allowed to attend holy events like wedding ceremonies and other formal community occasions. This is because of superstitions that the presence of persons with disabilities is an ill omen.
Furthermore, the understanding of disability as human rights issue is still remote. Disabled people are often subjected to inhuman treatment and are largely perceived as objects requiring charity as opposed to subjects of rights.
With the adoption and entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the rights of people with disabilities, including political rights, have received much more prominence than in the past. Its adoption and entry into force provide evidence of a widespread consensus about the importance of international law in the efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Although law – in whatever form –plays only a small part in these efforts, its role in providing a clear normative compass for developments along this road.
Politics and political involvement ranges from family life to that of the local and international arenas where there is a need to plan and be part of the decision. Politics, largely speaking, involves the interrelationships between people, between men and women, parents and children, people with and without disabilities and the operation of a power at every level of human interaction.
For persons with disabilities, political participation might involve thinking and developing disability or other social issues at the individual and family level, joining Disabled Peoples’ Organisations (DPOs), joining a political party or standing for elections.
Strong and stable democracy depends on the existence of well-functioning political parties. Appropriate democracy and non-corrupt political parties are two sides of the same coin. These organs are vital actors in bringing together diverse interests, recruiting and presenting candidates and developing captivating policies and programs that deliver people with choices.
Political parties are the vehicle through which popular sovereignty is expressed and transformed into public policy and action. In other words, political parties are means through which citizens can participate in governance either directly or through elected representatives of their choice.
Therefore, guaranteeing dynamic participation of persons with disabilities who are from non-corrupt background, highly educated, having strong leadership skills and committed and passionate to disability rights. Sadly, expecting such political parties and disability rights activists is still far cry till in Nepali context.
There are reports of misuse of votes of persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities, visually impaired and wheel-chair users in recently held provincial and federal parliament elections. In some cases, their votes are found to have been misused by their own relatives.
Political parties have yet to campaign or provide policy information on people with intellectual disability; including their citizenship rights, improving the education system, and regulation of the welfare.
The right to vote is an important tool of ensuring accountability of representatives who hold office for the exercise of legislative or executive power. Even though every citizen is capable to enjoy the right to vote, general recognition of the right to vote may not guarantee enfranchisement of people with disabilities.
For persons with disabilities, special accommodation needs to be facilitated throughout the election process: before, during and after elections.
The accommodations needed vary from individual to individual. Efforts during pre-election may include repealing any laws that exclude persons with disabilities from voting.
Persons with disabilities also have the right to be elected. However, mere recognition of the right of every citizen does not entail persons with disabilities are guaranteed on the same level to compete for a seat at the legislature.
The right to be elected can be realised when long-term and urgent accommodative measures are included to minimise the barriers.
The right to vote creates one of the cornerstones of modern democracies. Persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities continue to be deprived their right to vote. Such restriction is inconsistent with the norms and spirit of CRPD. CRPD, as a whole, is anchored on participation of persons with disabilities to ensure inclusion.
States should adopt all appropriate measures to effectively guarantee the right to political participation for persons with mental disability.
Joshi is a disability rights lawyer