Voting rights for Nepalis abroad: Full of promises, lack of action

Political parties have promised suffrage to Nepali citizens living abroad time and again but have not taken definite measures to actually allow them to vote.

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: As Nepal is inching close to May 13 local polls, the issue of the voting rights for the Nepalis living abroad has surfaced again. Many Nepalis abroad are demanding suffrage for them. 

Four years back, the Supreme Court had issued a directive order to the government for ensuring voting rights for Nepalis living abroad but it has not been implemented yet. The Supreme Court, in 2018, issued a directive order stating that it was the duty of the government to enable every citizen living in the country or abroad to vote in elections. 

The SC ordered to make provisions considering the Nepalis living abroad but have not yet renounced their Nepali citizenship and not taken the citizenship of other countries as eligible for ‘external voting’.

No progress has been made in this regard as of now.  

Even though leaders of the political parties appear to advocate for the voting rights of the Nepalis abroad now and again, they have actually failed to take the issue to the implementation level. Some political parties have repeated the commitment that they will soon bring a law to allow the Nepalis residing abroad to cast votes in the upcoming elections. But in practice, they themselves seem to be denying this right to the Nepalis living abroad by defying the Supreme Court’s directive order or by delaying its implementation. 

Addressing the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA)’s unity program a week ago, CPN-Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) said that the preparations are ongoing to ensure the participation of Nepalis residing abroad in the upcoming elections. If it is not possible in the local elections, it will be made possible for the upcoming federal and provincial elections, he added. 

In the program recently organized by Nepal Policy Institute (NPI), leaders had expressed their views regarding the voting rights of the Nepalis living abroad. 

Prakash Sharan Mahat, Nepali Congress spokesperson, indicated that it will be impossible to implement the Supreme Court’s order. “It may not be possible in the upcoming local elections nor in the upcoming parliamentary elections,” he said adding “it would be a great achievement if we succeeded to make it possible in the coming five years.” 

Even though the Supreme Court issued a directive order in 2018, neither any laws have been formulated nor concrete actions taken by political parties. 

Upendra Yadav, chair of Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal (JSPN), however, seems hopeful. Yadav said that it would have been better if we had included the provision of voting rights to Nepalis abroad in the constitution itself, but we can still provide them the voting rights by making laws. “There are many ways. E-voting could be an effective solution. The main thing is we must bring laws,” he added.

Pradip Gyawali, deputy general secretary of CPN-UML informed that the Election Commission is drafting a law that will reach the parliament via ministry.

Experts, for their part, are not confident that suffrage for Nepalis abroad is possible anytime soon given the reluctance of the political mechanism, the practical complications, and the lack of laws.  

Bhojraj Pokharel, the former Chief Election Commissioner, said that ensuring voting rights to the Nepalis living abroad in the upcoming elections is only a sweet imagination. “Neither the laws have been made, nor the logistical issues evaluated. Leaders are not saying no, but they are not taking any action,” he added. “The main matter is until and unless online voting is managed, out-of-the-country voting will be too difficult and will only remain a mere imagination.”

Nepal Live Today tried to reach the Election Commission officials to take their views regarding the progress in ensuring the voting rights of Nepalis abroad but to no avail.