We see periodically in the newspapers advertisements inserted by embassies and high commissions calling upon their citizens who happen to be in Sri Lanka to register themselves so as to be able to cast their votes at these missions for elections held in their mother countries. In contrast, Sri Lanka, which has well over a million of its passport holders working, studying or residing temporarily in other countries, has not made any serious attempt that we are aware of to do likewise, despite the importance given to the franchise in Article 3 of our Constitution.
It is well understood that restoring voting rights to expatriate Sri Lankans would be a complex exercise and would almost certainly not achieve anything close to the ideal 100 per cent coverage, on account of some adverse factors including numerous unlawful or inhuman restrictions to which many of our overseas workers are subject. Even so, achieving partial coverage would be better than violating the rights of each and all of our citizens in this vast reservoir of voters. Indeed, it could be argued that we could live with such limitations during the time that would be required to make adequate improvements to our election systems – for it is, after all, not too long ago that 400,000 or more of our fellow citizens were deprived of their voting rights at the last Presidential election without the ensuing result being declared null and void.
Overseas voting could be similar to postal voting, spread over a couple of weeks, so that no major logistical problems need be encountered by the voters, who should be free, within certain limits, to choose the date and time for submitting their sealed votes.
As many of our embassies are headed by political appointees, it would be imperative for the voting to be overseen by qualified personnel appointed by independent bodies experienced in election monitoring work, such as PAFFREL.
Rather than Are-inventing the wheel, advice could be readily obtained on how to go about this entire exercise from the many foreign missions here which are used to organising this kind of voting for elections to their own legislatures.
Our expatriates, particularly workers, make extremely important contributions, both towards reducing unemployment in this country and increasing our foreign earnings. They deserve better than to be deprived of their voting rights.