EDITORIAL: Ensure absentee vote

As ordered by the apex court, Parliament has to pass law allowing Nepali expats to vote in the three tiers of elections

Millions of Nepalis working, studying or living abroad will be able to take part in the election process of the three tiers of government – local, provincial and federal parliament – if Parliament enacts a law ensuring them external voting rights in line with the Supreme Court verdict. However, those living abroad will have to get their names registered in the voter roll to be eligible for casting their vote through the absentee ballot, which is in use in as many as 115 countries. In its directive order to the government on March 21 last year, the apex court, hearing on a writ petition, told the government and Election Commission (EC) to register a bill to ensure external voting from the next elections. Although the petitioners had demanded external voting rights only for the migrant workers, the apex court said this right should be given to all Nepalis living abroad, including students, business persons and those working for INGOs. The right to external voting should be allowed to all Nepalis who have not taken citizenship of a foreign land, have attained 18 years of age, have obtained voter identity cards, and whose names have been updated by the concerned Nepali missions.

The court also said the “legal and constitutional provisions” did not make it mandatory for citizens to be present in the country to exercise their voting right.  “Depriving a large chunk of the country’s population from the election process not only denies them their voting right, but also raises questions on the impartiality and sanctity of elections,” the SC said in its full text. Although the Supreme Court directive order is binding to the government and EC, the Commission itself is not sure whether it is feasible to have an absentee ballot. However, the EC is studying a technical report submitted by a panel led by EC Joint Secretary Giriraj Sharma. The report has stated that the management cost of external voting would be very high compared to the voter turnout in foreign countries, including India where lakhs of Nepalis are working in various cities. Majority of the migrant workers may not be proficient in using the internet, and they may be working away from capitals of the host countries. These are some of the technical problems the new law should address properly.

EC Commissioner Narendra Dahal has said they might suggest the government to launch a pilot project to test the efficacy of the absentee ballot. Management of the absentee ballot requires huge financial and technical resources, government’s willingness and consensus among the political parties. As the absentee ballot is going to be a new system for the country, extensive discussion is a must among the stakeholders and lawmakers to make it effective and economical. As the apex court has already ordered the government and EC to do the needful to this effect to see to it that Nepali expats can exercise their voting rights from the next elections, Parliament has to pass legislation within three-and-a-half years. It might seem to be a long period of time to draft a law. But it might also be a very short period of time for Parliament to enact a law in a field which requires a lot of homework. But, the government, EC and Parliament cannot escape from their duties when it comes to ensuring the right of the citizens.

Apt recognition

In what is a fitting commendation, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recognised Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology as its collaborating centre for ophthalmology. WHO has more than 800 collaborating centres in more than 80 countries in different fields of health. The recognition of the institute on its silver jubilee year comes for its significant contribution to eye care service delivery, education and training in ophthalmology, and research. Indeed over the decades it has examined six million eye patients and carried out more than 400,000 cataract and other major operations. Besides, high quality intra-ocular lenses, produced at the institute’s world-class facility, are exported to more than 70 countries.

The TIO has been a centre of excellence all along, and the credit for this goes to the highly dedicated team of doctors, groomed by one of its founding members, Dr Sanduk Ruit. Not only is the service at TIO outstanding, it is also affordable. That is why people from across the country flock here for treatment of major complications. There are many health institutions in the country that could have enjoyed similar status, were it not for the party politics that afflicts them day in day out.