It will take several years for political parties to reach an agreement regarding the out-of-country voting
It has been three years since a division bench of justices of the Supreme Court issued a directive to the government to ensure voting rights to Nepali citizens living abroad from the next general election. The court had then stated that it was the duty of the government to enable every citizen living in the country or abroad to vote in the elections. The apex court had ordered the government to immediately register a bill to this effect so that citizens could vote from abroad either through mail-in or electronic voting system. But the government has yet to draft a bill for external voting, let alone discuss it in the federal parliament.
While issuing the order, the apex court had stated that the government should ensure voting rights for all Nepalis living abroad, including students, business persons and those working for INGOs and had not taken citizenship of foreign countries, had attained the age of 18 years, had obtained voters' identity cards and their names updated by the concerned Nepali missions abroad.
The court had also told the government to interact with the political parties, civil society and experts before deciding on whether postal or electronic voting would be feasible for the Nepalis living abroad.
In its full text of the verdict issued on September 2, 2018, the court had observed that the constitution did not make it mandatory for citizens to stay in the country to exercise their franchise.
An estimated 7 million Nepalis are working in foreign countries as migrant workers, students or workers in international organisations. If the apex court's order were to be respected, the government needs to table a bill to ensure voting rights to all Nepalis living abroad. The government is also not clear whether the voting rights to the people living abroad should be allowed only for the proportional representation system for the federal and provincial elections or even for first-past-the-post system as well. A bill to this effect must be passed by the federal parliament well before the next local and general elections, which are just a few months away from now. It is also not possible to ensure voting rights to the people living abroad without amending the existing law that states nothing about voting from abroad.
Although it is a good idea to involve all citizens in the election processes, it seems to be a Herculean task for the government to ensure that it works without any flaw, given the huge logistic constraints involved.
The government itself, political parties and even the Election Commission seem to be unprepared to make proper arrangements for voting from abroad. It will take several years for the political parties to reach an agreement regarding out-of-country voting. However, we need to start working on this issue from now onwards so that out-of-country voting could materialise from the third general elections.
First of all, we need to make our election system fully functional at home, less costlier and foolproof. Although 115 countries and territories in the world have followed the out-of-country voting system, it is not immediately possible for Nepal to follow suit given the lack of resources and expertise. However, the government cannot simply ignore the apex court's directive in this regard.
It needs no reiteration that education and health have become very expensive in the country, with the common people unable to afford them. There have been instances where patients have even committed suicide after being unable to foot the hospital bills. A report from Bajura has it that a patient has been detained by a private hospital for failing to pay his treatment expenses, which totals Rs 51,000. He had only recently spent Rs 100,000 for the diagnosis of his kidney problem – no mean amount for a commoner from Sudurpaschim. And the man has yet to undergo surgery for kidney stones, which is now beyond his means as he has no money even to clear his current hospital bill and go home.
It is the responsibility of the government to make health care either free or affordable to all the citizens of the country. For most people who cannot make ends meet, health treatment is a burden they can ill afford. Insufficient budget and human resource is one of the reasons why people refuse to visit government hospitals. Apart from upgrading government health institutions outside the Kathmandu Valley, an effective insurance scheme to cover all citizens is a must to make health care affordable.
A version of this article appears in the print on December 6, 2021 of The Himalayan Times.