Business Times

Voting rights urged for migrant workers, other Sri Lankan residents overseas

A Sri Lankan group working for the rights of migrant workers last week urged the Elections Commissioner to make arrangements for migrant workers and also other Sri Lankan residents abroad to vote at the January 26 Presidential poll.

Anton Lodwick, Secretary General of the National Workers Congress, and Chairman of the Migrant Services Centre (MSC) said ever though there are time constraints in organising this on a mass scale, “it deserves to be tried out in a few countries which may agree to provide friendly assistance to set up this action.”

MSC has been campaigning for the voting rights of over one million Sri Lankan workers abroad for many years. Mr Lodwick said in a letter to the Elections Commissioner that migrant workers are currently unable to exercise their right to vote at any election held in Sri Lanka as travel and other costs for this journey are well beyond their reach. The Human Rights Commission after examining submissions made to them by MSC recommended a process of ensuring these rights and creating a necessary mechanism to give effect to this recommendation, he said.

“International experience shows that several Asian counties like Philippines and Indonesia do permit their migrant workers abroad to exercise the right to vote while staying in destination countries,” the letter said, adding that: “at a time when Sri Lankan authorities are making every effort to enlist support of the Sri Lankan Diaspora living abroad to participate in nation building, it also becomes a national responsibility to enlist non resident Sri Lankans in the political process.”

He says there are more than 500,000 Sri Lankans resident abroad in addition to the migrant workers.
Meanwhile Sri Lanka National Congress leader and Minister Milinda Moragoda is also of the view that all Sri Lankan nationals living and working abroad should be allowed to vote at elections.

“This will help us to test as to how Sri Lankans overseas feel and what they think about the political environment back at home,” he said in a statement. He said the country should not forget the contribution made by Sri Lankan workers the world over towards the economy of the country. “They earn the much needed foreign exchange for the up keep of the country, hence they should be made part and parcel of the election process,” he said.

Mr Moragoda drew parallels with the Indian proposal where the Indian Prime Minister recently emphasized the need to allow Indian expatriates to cast their vote at the next General Elections.
The statement said the Congress is to initiate a petition and consultatation process through the Internet by persons living abroad who support this proposal. This petition will electronically seek to collect the signatures living abroad and will be presented to the authorities concerned in the coming month.”

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