Nepal expands citizenship rights to millions

Nepal expands citizenship rights to millions
KATHMANDU (AFP) - Sun Nov 26, 8:20 AM ET

Nepal's parliament granted millions the opportunity to become new citizens, passing a bill that helps a migrant population on its India border get the chance to vote in national elections due next year.
"Parliament sitting on Sunday passed the citizenship bill paving way for granting citizenship to some five million people who were born in Nepal before 1990," said Hridayesh Tripathi, the minister for industry, commerce and supplies.

The law particularly aids the Madhesi community living in Terai region on southern plains bordering India, the minister added.

Previous governments had been reluctant to provide citizenship to people in the Terai belt because they feared being overwhelmed by Indian nationals who have links to the country through a porous border.

Nepal shares an open border of 1,700 kilometers (1,063 miles) with neighbouring India and both countries allow nationals to cross with little interference.

"This is a significant decision taken by parliament as it comes at a time when the country is gearing towards holding of constituent assembly elections," said Tripathi.

The potential new voters may come to play a key part in Nepal if Maoists and political parties adhere to a landmark peace deal reached last week and hold national elections next year.

The two sides missed a Sunday deadline to form a new interim parliament as specified in the peace deal.

Under the accord, the Maoists get 73 of the 330 seats in an interim parliament that would pave the way for fresh elections next year to a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and decide the fate of the 238-year-old monarchy.

The Maoists and an alliance of seven political parties led mass protests in April that forced King Gyanendra to abandon 14 months of absolute rule, which he said was needed to crush the Maoist rebellion.