Bangladeshis holding dual citizenship should not be allowed to vote in national elections, diplomats and political leaders said Thursday.
The proclamation came at a seminar organized by the Election Commission in Dhaka, titled: “Franchise and National Identity Cards (NIDs) for Expatriate Bangladeshis.”
“Bangladeshis having dual citizenship should be declared disqualified from casting ballots in elections and holding public office,” Jatiya Party Co-Chairman GM Quader said.
“Those who will serve as public officers must be purely Bangladeshi citizens.”
Adding to the denouncement of dual citizens was the former diplomat, Waliur Rahman, who pointed out that two such people have been made ministers, without naming them. “The Election Commission should look into the matter,” he said.
The Bangladesh ambassador to Italy, Abdus Sobhan Sikder, sought to balance the debate, saying it was important to distinguish between the terms “expatriate” and “emigrant”.
“Who will be allowed to exercise franchise in his or her country of origin is a political decision (and) we can hold discussions in this regard,” he said.
“An expatriate should have right to vote because he or she has not received citizenship of the country where they are living.
“But emigrants leave their motherlands in the hope that they would get citizenship of a particular country, which they emigrate to. They are entitled to all benefits and rights including franchise in that country.”
Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda presided over Thursday’s seminar, which was held at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel in Dhaka.
Expat vote experiment
Presenting a paper, Brig Gen Mohammad Saidul Islam, the director of the Election Commission’s NID registration wing, said arrangements were being made to collect votes from Bangladeshi expatriates on “an experimental basis”, although not in time for the parliamentary polls due in December.
“The Commission may reach a conclusion in this regard after examining merits and demerits of such arrangements,” he said.
Saidul underscored the need for setting up servers in host countries to register Bangladeshi expats as voters and to store their data. To this end, he suggested forming teams in proportion to the number of Bangladeshis living in a particular country.
The official pointed out some challenges in this regard, however, including recruiting IT professionals, procuring advanced equipment, ensuring transparency and safety of the polling centres abroad, and preventing violence.
“As the challenges have not yet been addressed, I suggest not making such arrangements in the upcoming parliamentary polls,” Saidul said.
By proxy or post
Expatriates are currently able to cast ballots in Bangladeshi votes by proxy and through postal voting.
The previous two Election Commissions - headed respectively by ATM Shamsul Huda and Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad - tried to make it easy for expatriates to cast ballots using these methods, but their endeavours did not go far enough.
“The Commission will launch campaigns to popularize the existing systems among Bangladeshis living abroad and to encourage them to make use of them,” CEC Nurul Huda said on Thursday. “Dual citizenship would be a major barrier to collecting the expatriates' votes.”
Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, told the seminar that a large number of expat Bangladeshis have already become citizens of the countries in which they live, while not renouncing their Bangladeshi citizenship.
“As Bangladeshis holding dual citizenship are not allowed to cast their votes as per the constitution, we should hold discuss the issue,” he said. “We also need to focus on finding ways to make sure expatriate Bangladeshis exercise their voting rights.”
He also raised questions about the effectiveness of postal voting, because he said through this system it is not easy to ascertain the identities of voters.
The postal voting system has been in effect since 2008. Using this method, an expatriate is required to apply for a ballot paper that he receives and sends back by post after casting his or her vote.
Sections of this article were first published on banglatribune.com