If 115 countries can realise out-of-country voting, there is no reason why Nepal cannot do so

With the local elections just around the corner, the denial of voting rights to Nepalis living abroad, in particular migrant workers, has kicked up a storm. In September 2018, the Supreme Court had issued a directive to the government to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living abroad from the next election (2022), observing that it was not mandatory for citizens to be in the country to exercise this fundamental right under the legal and constitutional provisions.

Although the country has seen two governments under different political parties since the apex court verdict, it has not done anything to put it into practice. The government has not even drafted a new election bill towards ensuring out-of-country voting.

It is apparent that Nepalis living abroad will not be able to vote in the local polls slated for May 13 to pick representatives to 753 local levels - metropolises, sub- metropolises, municipalities and rural municipalities.

But can their voting rights be ensured from the general elections to be held in November this year? Nepalis are scattered all over the world today, from Southeast Asia and the Middle East to Europe, Americas and Africa, studying or working in as many as 170 countries. The bulk of the migrant Nepalis are, however, concentrated in a few countries, namely, Malaysia, the Gulf countries and South Korea. Although the new census puts the number of Nepalis living or working in foreign countries at around 2.1 million, it might be at least double that figure, given that about 55 per cent of Nepali households depend on remittances to meet their house expenses. The country itself is highly dependent on remittances to keep its economy running, with Nepal importing 13 times more than what it exports. Thus, given the immense contribution of Nepali migrant workers to sustaining the Nepali economy and for so long, it is simply unjustifiable that they should be denied voting rights because they are living outside the country.

If 115 countries and territories in the world can realise out-of-country voting, there is no reason why Nepal should dillydally in implementing the system, especially now that the apex court has ordered the government to do so. When such a huge chunk of the country's population is barred from the voting process, it also raises questions about the impartiality and sanctity of the elections, according to the Supreme Court. But any change in the election system is less likely to happen unless there is pressure on the government and the political parties to implement external voting rights. The civil society and other stakeholders, namely those working to see free, fair and inclusive polls, should have raised the issue immediately after the last general elections in 2017 and not be making squeaky noises when the elections are about to happen. There are, of course, logistics and other problems associated with implementing outof-country voting, especially given the large number of parties and independents participating in each of the constituencies. But if we can draft and pass the new election bill in time, out-of-country Nepalis could begin by voting under the proportional representation system at the time of the federal parliamentary elections later this year.

Clear arrears

The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has warned of taking legal action against seven non-operating airline companies for not clearing their arrears to the civil aviation regulatory body. According to CAAN, the seven airlines - Necon Air, Shivani Air, Gorkha Air, Mountain Air, Cosmic Air, Skyline Airways and Air Kasthamandap - have not cleared arrears amounting to nearly Rs 91.70 million.

CAAN has served them a seven-day ultimatum to clear their outstanding dues.

The regulatory body is preparing to blacklist these firms and its operators as per the Airport Service Charge Regulations-2010, as per which they may be barred from their involvement in any services or any business related to civil aviation in the future. Moreover, CAAN has also warned that their bank accounts could be frozen and the passports of the management could be revoked, as per Article 27 of Civil Aviation Authority Act-1996. CAAN has already issued three notices every year since 2019, but to no avail.

Even if their operations have folded up, they cannot escape from paying the dues to CAAN. Legal action being taken against the erring airlines is a welcome move. Nobody should be allowed to violate the law.

A version of this article appears in the print on March 22, 2022, of The Himalayan Times