The Election Commission (EC) plans to provide smart national identity (NID) cards to Bangladeshi expatriate voters living in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Italy.
As the 12th National Assembly elections in Bangladesh draw near, there has been a significant upsurge in initiatives aimed at involving expatriates in the electoral proceedings. This comprehensive effort encompasses the issuance of Smart National Identity Cards (NIDs) and the inclusion of overseas citizens in the electoral registry. To achieve this ambitious objective, the Election Commission (EC) is gearing up to kickstart the registration process for Bangladeshi expatriates residing in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. The EC’s plan entails the rollout of the National Identity Card service through the respective embassies in these countries, with the election schedule to be unveiled subsequently.
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In the wake of Government Orders (GOs) being issued, a delegation comprising 15 EC officials is in the process of preparing for visits to these three nations to coordinate the logistics for their overseas missions. Notably, these officials have underlined the government’s unwavering commitment to implementing NID services through embassies, a demand that expatriates have consistently voiced during the visits of both former and current Election Commissioners.
In recent developments, the National Identity Registration Department of the Election Commission is actively engrossed in its duties. The Ministry of External Affairs has granted approval for the initiation of the voter registration process in these three countries—namely, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. However, it’s important to note that new expatriate voters will not be eligible to vote in the upcoming national elections after September 14.
Expanding the Program to the United Arab Emirates
Sources also report that the new voter registration process is currently underway through the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Missions of the United Arab Emirates. An expenditure of 33 lakh taka was allocated to launch this program. Since its commencement last May, smart national identity cards have been distributed to 1,073 individuals in these locations, with more cards awaiting distribution. Thus far, 6,715 individuals have applied to become voters through this program.
Director General of the National Identity Registration Department, AKM Humayun Kabir, has confirmed these developments, stating that the voter registration process will soon begin in the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Italy, with their team preparing for the registration process.
In a recent meeting, the Director General of the National Identity Registration Division, AKM Humayun Kabir, mentioned that 33 lakh takas were allocated to initiate the registration process in the United Arab Emirates.
Phased Implementation and Overseas Voting
According to sources, there are plans to enable expatriates to vote in 15 countries in three phases. In the first phase, the EC seeks approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to launch this program in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. Taking into account the capacity of the Bangladesh Mission in these countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has agreed to kickstart this program in the UK, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. The program will commence in Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, London and Manchester in the United Kingdom, and Rome and Milan in Italy. During this program, expatriates will be able to visit these missions to have their photos taken and provide fingerprints and iris impressions.
Process for Expatriate Voters
EC officials have stated that, as per current regulations, expatriates must return to the country and visit specific election offices to complete the necessary processes to become voters. National identity cards must also be collected in Bangladesh. If this program is implemented in these missions, they will have access to national identity card services while residing abroad.
However, their permanent addresses will be verified in Bangladesh under the supervision of the Election Commission. Additionally, it was mentioned that the previous KM Nurul Huda Commission had initiated the process of accepting online voter registration applications from expatriates, but progress had been limited due to various reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s cost-cutting policy.
Challenges and Progress
Out of these applicants, 1,073 have been issued national identity cards, and the address verification process for 3,660 applications is ongoing. Sources indicate that 716 applications have been canceled after verification, primarily due to the inability to verify their permanent addresses, with a suspicion that most of these individuals may be Rohingya. Additionally, citizens of other countries have also attempted to register as voters in this country, with 39 individuals applying despite already being voters.
On July 10, the Election Commission commenced the issuance of Smart National Identity (NID) cards to Bangladeshi expatriate voters residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The government has formulated plans to extend these services to a total of 15 countries with significant Bangladeshi expatriate populations. Approximately 15 years ago, demands were made to grant voting rights and provide National ID (NID) cards to Bangladeshi expatriates living in various countries.
Under the leadership of KM Nurul Huda, the then Election Commission initiated the online registration process in Malaysia in November 2019, overcoming several complications associated with registering expatriate Bangladeshis. However, this initiative was temporarily suspended due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.