The Indian Parliament has passed a bill that allows “proxy voting” for Non-Resident Indians

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The Indian Parliament has passed a bill that allows “proxy voting” for Non-Resident Indians

  • Yesterday, the Lok Sabha passed a bill that allows Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to cast their vote through an Indian resident.
  • The bill amends the Representation of People Act, which only allows government officials abroad or members of the army to submit their votes through a proxy.
  • As of December 2016, there were 13 million NRIs around the world, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.

Till now, if you were a Indian citizen living abroad and you wished to vote in an Indian election, you would have to physically travel back to your constituency in India and cast your vote. However, that looks set to change.

Yesterday, the lower house of India’s Parliament passed a bill that affords Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) the privilege of submitting their votes through “proxies”, or a person living in India. The bill amends the Representation of People Act, which only allows government officials abroad or members of the army to submit their votes through a proxy.

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The move has been in the works for a while. A proposal to allow NRIs to cast their votes electronically was mooted by the Election Commission in 2015, however after the central government accepted the proposal the following year, there hadn’t been any real movement on the issue. Additionally, a proposal to allow NRIs to vote through postal ballots was shot down over concerns that it would too difficult to implement.

The issue of NRI voting was given a new lease of life in August 2017, when the Cabinet cleared a proposal to allow proxy voting, thereby preparing the policy for discussion in the Parliament. At the time, the proposal included a provision that made it mandatory for NRIs to nominate a new person every time they vote in an election, unlike service personnel who are allowed to nominate a permanent proxy.

A number of concerns

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NRIs are an important vote bank. As of December 2016, there were 13 million NRIs around the world, according to the Ministry of External Affairs. They have consistently complained about their inability to vote in elections and the bill addresses their complaints.

However, the bill also raises a number of important issues. Firstly, the party that is currently in power, the BJP, enjoys a huge following among the NRI community, and this bill could be an important ploy to win them over ahead of national elections next year.

Secondly, the proxy voting process is vulnerable to misuse. There don’t seem to be any sufficient checks and balances in place to ensure proxies vote for the NRI’s choice of candidate.

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Lastly, and this issue is largely unsolvable, only parties with sufficient financial resources will be able to roll out significant promotional campaigns abroad, which tilts the balance of power against smaller, regional parties. There is no adequate mechanism to track how much is spent by these parties outside India.

All things considered, however, the move is a step in the right direction. A number of NRIs, especially manual workers, are unable to travel back home for elections. The bill allows them to have a say in India’s democracy. The amended act will now be sent to the upper house of Parliament. After it is approved by the Rajya Sabha, it will be codified into law.
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