Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – The Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) Association warns that more than half a million Nepalis might be deprived of their political rights, including their right to vote, under the terms of the new draft constitution presented in late June after years of disagreements and parliamentary tussles.
Several countries around the world allow for dual citizenship, including the United States, Britain, Switzerland, and Israel. However, rights and privileges vary by country.
The provisions in the new constitution of Nepal indicates that non-residents have the right to engage in the economic and social affairs of their country of origin, but will not be allowed to engage in politics, vote for their representatives or be elected.
The draft constitution includes a clause for “Non-Resident Nepali (NRN) citizenship”, which “can be provided” to people of Nepali origin who have acquired citizenship of countries outside the SAARC* region.
It also grants NRNs “economic, social and cultural rights”, in accordance with the laws of the country. However, that does not go far enough because NRN citizens are not given political rights. In fact, the new provision bans both the right to vote and the right to be elected.
According to experts, the new citizenship provision reflects government scepticism towards people from India and China who might obtain Nepali citizenship via marriage. Yet, this could deprive the country of investments from Nepalis living abroad.
“About a half million Nepalis living abroad are helping Nepal,” said Shesh Ghale, a Nepali-born millionaire from Australia who heads the Non-Resident Nepali association.
“They live across the world with Nepal in their hearts,” he explained. “They love Nepal and are ready to bring in capital to invest in various sectors to develop the country. Such people should be granted citizenship with political rights. The current provision may discourage them.”
In fact, although Nepal's government recognises the importance of these resources, it denies non-residents the right to vote.
"Financial resources are important for the country, which also needs so desperately the knowhow, skills and experience of the Nepali diaspora,” said government spokesperson Minendra Rija.
What is more, “There is also an emotional argument, one that addresses the reality of emigration dynamics for Nepal, in tune with greater labour movement and nature of a globalised economy.”
For Constitutional expert Tika Ram Bhattarai, “As one of the poorest and least developed countries,” Nepal urgently needs “economic development, poverty reduction and improvement in people’s lives. Achieving this requires financial resources as well as knowhow, expertise and ideas. Non-resident Nepalis are a good source for that.”
According to one study, the Nepali diaspora could generate investments to the tune of US$ 20 billion in the real estate sector alone. However, only economic rights associated with citizenship can ensure a safe financial environment for investment.
Protests by non-residents are only the latest in a long line. Last week, lawyers protested against the draft constitution for discriminating against women and their property rights.
Two days ago, more than 100 people were arrested demonstrating against provisions that would punish "religious conversion".
* SAARC refers to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.