Published:  12:36 AM, 07 December 2018

Voting is a constitutional right, not a mercy

A patriotic Bangladeshi diaspora was assaulted and stripped off by agitated Pakistani Panjabis in Qatar in the mid-1971 in resentment of collecting funds from his very few Bangladeshi countrymen to aid freedom fighters in Bangladesh. His name is Yakoob Khan, a native of Chittagong.

He came to Qatar before the Liberation War erupted in 1971. Yakoob Khan is an example, there might be hundreds to thousands diaspora Bangladeshis who devoted themselves in many ways supporting the liberation of their beloved motherland at the time of war in 1971. But in today's reality, many of them, their sacrifices are a forgotten chapter.

After 47 years of independence, Yakoob Khan is not even a voter; no right to vote in a country once he lend a hand to create. Fundamentally, he is still a Bangladeshi Diaspora as he was in the year 1971 but he was seen as a devoted Bangladeshi then but a disowned Bangladeshi now. Like millions of others diaspora, Khan is not allowed to vote to choose even a ward member to parliament member. However, Khan is very happy that he could contribute to the process of nation-making.

An approximate figure of ten million Bangladeshi expatriates, almost all of them being of voting age, through their work has raised the image of Bangladesh in the outside world. Bangladesh officially started exporting manpower in 1976 with a modest number (6,078) of workers but largely in the mid-80s particularly to oil-rich Middle Eastern countries and the trend still continues. 

As per Wikipedia; Bangladesh believed to be at the bottom line in world 10th top ten remittance recipients in 2017. Our neighboring India regained the top position in the list with a wowing figure of 68 Billion US dollar. Bangladeshi Diaspora remitted 13.53 billion US dollars in 2017, the second largest foreign currency earning after readymade garment (RMG).

In the last five years, the average yearly remittance sent by expatriates of the country was over USD 14.5 billion, amounting to almost 10 percent of the country's GDP. Remittances of Bangladeshi Diasporas contribution of such wowing figure will stand the highest contribution by any expatriates of any country in the world to the country's GDP except the Philippines if we disregard smaller countries under 10 million population. Bangladesh is the second largest RMG manufacturer in the world after China exported $28.15 billion in 2017; out of Bangladesh's overall export of $34.83 billion.

Remittance is called a lifeline of foreign currency earning in Bangladesh. Even though RMG earnings are considered to be highest in volume; in reality, remittance is the highest volume of foreign currency Bangladesh earns every year because most of RMG earnings go back out of the country to import of capital machinery and industrial raw materials but wherein there is no flair for a single penny of remittance money to out. Even though Bangladeshi workers are mainly engaged in 143 countries of the world but about 90% of the remittances come from the Middle East, US, UK, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Like many others, voting right is a constitutional right to the citizen of Bangladesh and that right should remain fully intact regardless of where a citizen chooses to live but sadly not for Bangladeshi Diasporas who are contributing the lion's share to our revenue earning and the forex reserve.

The right to vote is a fundamental right of citizenship as it was ensured in the constitution of Bangladesh but for the fate of Bangladeshi expatriates, it remained disenfranchised ever since the birth of the country. Election commission of Bangladesh is far responsible for not taking any step or neither implementing any active measures in ensuring the voting rights of its expatriates.

In all conscience, this the utter failure of Election commission and disenfranchise to the very own people who are the bonafide ambassadors of Bangladesh. Bangladeshi Diaspora represents around 5 percent of the total population of the country. None of the government in Bangladesh so far felt that it is a democratic and moral oversight for them to keep this productive and resourceful group of citizen enfranchised by regulating their voting rights.

"Every eligible citizen, irrespective of whether s/he is a resident in Bangladesh or outside Bangladesh, should be entitled to vote for electing members of Parliament and other representative bodies in accordance with law." This was quantified by three retired Justices of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh in their capacity as members of the Law Commission in February 2001, in response to a question from the Prime Minister's Office asking whether it would be proper to convene the right to vote by Bangladeshi citizens residing abroad.

The Prime Minister at the time was Sheikh Hasina. 17 years have passed since then whereas Sheikh Hasina continues to be the prime minister for last ten years; there was no credible reason why the government did not take steps to take account of non-resident Bangladeshi (NRB) into logical and democratic conclusion.

In spite of frequent fragile, Bangladesh is on its pathway to a mature democratic nation. It is a necessity to adopt a mechanism for NRBs the right to vote through Bangladeshi Missions abroad. In a frequent pampering the Government repeatedly calls NRBs as unofficial ambassadors, golden children of the country but in reality, Delhi is far away. Eleventh National Election is looming on the head just one month from now.

So, it might not be possible anymore to include NRBs into this electoral process but a renewed sense of obligation in this respect in the collective conscience of the government should not go a long way for 12thNational General Election.

The upcoming generation, as well as history, will judge positively an election commission in general, and a Prime Minister in particular, that sees it fit to empower a group of citizens who have ventured far and wide, essentially to enrich and empower the motherland and countrymen they have left behind.

The writer is a columnist, and an activist for Diasporas activism and rights based in the Middle East

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