Supreme Court directs Govt to establish voting rights for Nepalis living abroad

Supreme Court (SC) has directed the government to ensure voting rights for Nepali citizens living in various foreign countries from the upcoming elections.

A division bench of justices Sapana Pradhan Malla and Purushottam Bhandari directed the government to ensure the voting rights for Nepalis living in foreign countries for foreign employment or education according to the existing domestic and international laws.

Making public the full text of the judgment handed down on March 21, 2018 in relation to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by advocate Prem Chandra Rai, on behalf of the Rules and Regulations Forum for Social Justice against the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, Parliament Secretariat, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Labor and Employment and the Election Commission, the SC directed the government to ensure voting rights for Nepalis living in foreign countries.

Citing examples of Spain and India which have ensured voting rights for their citizens living in foreign countries for various purposes, the apex court observed that Nepal should also adopt such voting rights policy to ensure democratic rights for Nepali citizens living in various other countries.

The apex court issued a six-point directive in the name of the government authorities to guarantee voting rights for the Nepali citizens  living in various countries working at various diplomatic missions, United Nations, International Organizations and studying at various universities or working abroad.

The bench also underlined that giving such rights to some people may create discrimination between citizens therefore it directed the government authorities to ensure equal opportunities to exercise such voting rights to all Nepali citizens living in foreign countries.

The apex court directed the government to prepare a list of Nepali citizens living abroad who have neither denounced their Nepali citizenship nor obtained the citizenship of any other country but are eligible to vote.

Stating that there might be various types of alternatives for voting system for the people living in a foreign country, the apex court asked the authorities to adopt a suitable alternative with pilot test keeping in mind the expenses, technology and the required time duration for adopting voting rights for Nepali citizens living abroad.

“There is a need to do homework for ensuring impartial election by ensuring the rights for all citizens  by ensuring secret ballot in consultation with political parties, civil society and writ petitioner as well,” the text of the judgment stated.

The apex court also directed the government authorities to make diplomatic efforts for ensuring the voting rights through consultations with the foreign governments and employers of the Nepali citizens because the concerning countries might have different voting rights laws.

Underling that voting right is a sovereign and fundamental democratic right, the apex court directed the government to introduce a bill in parliament as soon as possible in order to make a suitable law for ensuring voting rights for Nepali citizens living in foreign countries.

Saying that the government conducted a feasibility study in 2014 for ensuring the voting rights for Nepalis living abroad, the bench also added that this process of ensuring voting rights for Nepalis living in foreign countries should not be a matter of excuse due to technical and procedural reasons.

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