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Explained: Why NRIs in the Gulf won’t get postal voting rights for now

The proposal may get implemented first for voters based in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and South Africa.

Written by Ritika Chopra , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 16, 2020 10:24:59 am
postal ballots, nris, postal ballots for nris, election commission, india election rules, parliament news, indian express, express expainedThe EC, for now, hasn't included Gulf countries in its proposed pilot.

In a meeting held last week with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the Election Commission (EC) has indicated to the government the countries where it would like to have postal voting introduced for NRIs on a pilot basis.

The proposal may get implemented first for voters based in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and South Africa.

For now, Gulf countries are not part of the proposed pilot.

What is the reason behind the EC leaving out the Gulf countries, which have significant Indian diaspora, from the proposed pilot?

The Commission obviously does not have anything against the NRIs settled in the Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, the MEA has in the past expressed strong reservations over facilitating voting for Indian citizens living in non-democratic nations.

Holding a democratic exercise, involving voters queuing outside Indian Missions and Embassies, in non-democratic countries will require permissions, and the host nation may not approve.

Given these concerns, the EC, for now, hasn’t included Gulf countries in its proposed pilot.

What is the current strength of NRI voters?

According to a UN report of 2015, India’s diaspora population is the largest in the world at 16 million people.

Registration of NRI voters, in comparison, has been very low: a little over 1 lakh overseas Indians registered as voters in India, according to the EC.

In last year’s Lok Sabha elections, roughly 25,000 of them flew to India to vote. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Which foreign countries have the largest numbers of NRIs registered as voters in India?

The EC does not have data on NRI voters broken down country-wise. Rather, the Commission keeps the data for every state in India.

Therefore, we know the states in which NRIs are registered as voters, but not the foreign country in which they reside.

Out of 1.18 lakh NRI voters, the largest number — about 89,000 — are registered to vote in Kerala. The second-largest cohort (roughly 7,500) are registered in Andhra Pradesh, followed by Maharashtra (5,500 approx), Karnataka (4,500 approx), Tamil Nadu (3,200), and Telangana (2,500).

Given that the poll panel is now keen on allowing overseas electors to vote in Indian elections from abroad, however, it will also have to maintain country-wise information.

If approved, how will voting by postal ballots work for NRIs?

In its meeting last week with the MEA, the EC has proposed that any NRI interested in voting through the postal ballot in an election will have to inform the Returning Officer (RO) not later than five days after the notification of the election. On receiving such information, the RO will dispatch the ballot paper electronically.

A designated officer in the Indian mission will download the ballot paper on the voter’s behalf, and hand it over to the overseas elector. The overseas elector can then mark her preference at the mission, get the self-declaration form attested by the designated officer, and hand back the ballot paper and declaration form in a sealed envelope to the mission.

The mission will then dispatch all the envelopes to the election officer concerned.

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