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EC faces hiccup in first project to enrol expat voters

  • Published at 01:43 am March 28th, 2019
National Identity Card_ Bangladeshi expatriate voters
An NID Wing official takes the photo of a man for his National Identity Card during the registration process Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Election officials who visited Singapore earlier this month, say the Election Commission will need to review Singapore law before proceeding

The Election Commission’s first project to enrol Bangladeshi expatriate voters is already faced with difficulties, as a team of election officials who visited Singapore earlier this month have asked the commission to thoroughly consult the Singapore legal system before proceeding with the project. 

The officials placed 18 recommendations  at a meeting with the Election Commission on Monday, on how Bangladeshis in Singapore can be enrolled as voters. 

The Dhaka Tribune obtained a copy of the document with details of the meeting. 

The four-member team, led by Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed, went to Singapore in the first week of March to run a feasibility study. They met with officials of the Bangladesh High Commission in Singapore, the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, immigration and checkpoint authorities – and also people from the Bangladeshi community there. 

Bangladesh High Commission officials warned the Election Commission delegates that the Bangladesh authorities should officially ask the Singapore government’s permission before launching the project there, according to the document. 

Unless they are aware of it, the Singaporean authorities are likely to deem sudden gatherings of Bangladeshi citizens in a place – in this case, at the High Commission to register as voters – suspicious or illegal. 

Singapore authorities are sensitive about any kind of large gatherings, since the country is run by a one-party government, high commission officials told the Election Commission delegates.  

The delegates said they were strictly monitored by the local authorities during their visit.

 Registering Bangladeshi expatriates will require additional manpower at the Bangladesh High Commission, and their recruitment will also require the Singapore authorities’ permission.

There is no specific data on how many Bangladeshi citizens live in Singapore, but the population is estimated to be close to 100,000. 

The Singapore authorities have data on each country’s expatriates living there, but they do not share the information with any diplomatic mission, officials at the Bangladesh High Commission said.

The Election Commission is planning to set up permanent offices in 100 countries to enrol expatriate voters, including in Singapore, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, the UK, the US, Italy, Australia, and Canada. 

The commission decided to launch with Singapore where they plan to start the process in the first week of April and finish it in six months.

“We are now focusing on Singapore. After this project is done, we will consider the others,” Abdul Baten, Election Commission joint secretary and director of operations at the National Identity Registration Wing (NID Wing), told the Dhaka Tribune. 

The initiative of enrolling expatriates on the voters list was first taken during the tenure of former chief of election commission (CEC) Shamsul Huda but no significant progress was made then. Later, the current Election Commission, led by CEC KM Nurul Huda, resumed the project.   

The recommendations

At Monday’s meeting, election officials made 18 recommendations on how to smoothly run the voter registration process for Bangladeshi expatriates in Singapore. Some of the recommendations are:

* Registration equipment, that is laptops, fingerprint scanners, iris scanners, signature pads, etc, should be taken to Singapore from Bangladesh

* Since Singapore provides only one month visas, the Election Commission should form several teams to run the registration process. Each team would consist of five or six members, including technical experts, who would work for a few weeks before the next team in line takes over

* The Election Commission could run a campaign on social media platforms to inform the Bangladeshi community in Singapore about voter registration

* National IDs made using the data collected by one team, can be sent to Singapore with the next team, or in diplomatic bags

* The NID reserve fund will bear the expenses of election officials working in Singapore to register expatriate Bangladeshis

* Skilled workers who work in ship building and construction should be included in the NID database

* The Election Commission can take assistance of the newly established passport wing at the Bangladesh High Commission