Parliamentary Constituencies for Non-resident Bangladeshis

Parliamentary Constituencies for Non-resident Bangladeshis

Remittance is the largest source of foreign income that contributes more than 10 percent of the GDP in Bangladesh today. Apart from this huge capital inflow, the non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) are increasingly playing an important role in the development of the country in various ways. The knowledge, expertise, experience, and entrepreneurship earned by expatriates are being transferred directly or indirectly back home. In Indian and China, similar contributions from their expatriates played significant roles in boosting their economies. The government of Bangladesh has started recognizing these contributions and potentials, which has reflected in creating a ministry for the expatriates and in deciding that the NRBs can vote in national elections.

The provision for non-residents to vote from overseas exists in many western countries. However, for Bangladesh, this is not just offering a democratic right but it will also open up a channel through which we can get our non-residents to be more involved in our development. This will accelerate the process of reversing the brain drain.

However, the current thinking is that an NRB vote will be counted to the constituency in which the home of the NRB is located in Bangladesh. With this arrangement, the NRB votes will be scattered throughout all 300 constituencies and, within a particular constituency, the share of the NRB votes will be negligible. The candidates will not feel it important enough or cost effective to contact or campaign among the small number of NRB voters who may be scattered around the whole world. This arrangement will only give a satisfaction to the NRBs but it will not really empower them to influence the members of parliament (MPs) of their areas to listen to their ideas or their problems.

If we really want to ensure that the collective ideas and opinions of the NRBs reflect in the legislative process and development of our country, we should think about creating special constituencies for the NRBs. There can be several constituencies depending on the size of the NRBs living in different parts of the world. For instance, there can be a constituency for North America, one for Europe, one for the Middle East and Africa combined, and one for all Australia and the Far Eastern countries combined. Only in North America more than half a million NRBs are living. A lot more NRBs are living in the Middle East. So the population sizes will definitely support at least one constituency for each of these regions.

Any NRB who is a Bangladeshi citizen and is current living in that part of the world can become a candidate. They can be elected through direct votes of eligible voters in an NRB constituency and can attend the parliamentary sessions through video connection when it is not always possible to attend physically. The introduction of such NRB constituencies will ensure that an elected MP is always in touch with the NRBs in a region to listen to their ideas and interests and to raise those in the parliament.

These NRB MPs can also serve as a bridge between the local high commissions/embassies and the NRBs in that region. With the support of the MP, the officials of the foreign missions can understand the problems and needs of expatriate Bangladeshis and can also work jointly with them to achieve their missions (for example, to form a lobby group to influence the legislative members of the host country).

If electing MPs in NRB constituency through direct votes does not seem feasible at this stage, an alternative is to select MPs for these NRB constituencies by the majority party, the same way the female MPs for the reserved seats are selected. In that case, the NRBs can vote in their constituencies back home, as the government is currently thinking.

This whole arrangement can be initially for 10-15 years and then it can be reviewed to see whether it should be continued or not. There is a possibility that after 20-30 years the composition and interest of NRBs may be different and also the role of NRBs may not be as important for our economy as it is today

We do not have to follow the ready-made model from the west. Those countries do not depend on remittance income and the overall contribution of their expatriates. This issue is not as crucial for those countries as in the case of Bangladesh. In the past, we demonstrated the brevity to come up with non-standard solutions to solve our problems in our own way. The concept of the care taker government is such an example. The proposal for forming NRB constituencies may seem strange but if that helps us to ensure the input of our NRBs in our development and to look after their interests, we should not hesitate to consider such an arrangement in an increasingly globalized world.

The author is a mathematical statistician working for the U.S. Federal Government in Washington D.C. He previously worked for the University of Chicago and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Sadeq R. Chowdhury, Ph.D.

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