Among those who belong to the constituency are overseas Indonesians, who make up around 45 per cent of registered voters.
Marsha said many highly skilled Indonesians had no choice but to work overseas because of limited employment opportunities in their respective fields back home. “Indonesia simply doesn’t have the industries to make full use of their talents.”
Damelina B. Tambunan, dean of the business school at Surabaya’s University of Ciputra, said her study of the Indonesian diaspora led her to conclude the country is suffering from a gradual “brain drain”.
“Even if these highly skilled people wanted to come back, they wouldn’t be employable here,” she said.
Marsha agreed, saying she knew of Indonesians who worked in sensitive tech industries and had to take up foreign citizenships to qualify for higher security clearances.
Marsha said it would be remiss for Indonesia to ignore the ban on dual citizenship, which she added is one of the reasons causing the brain drain.
“The trend will likely continue and Indonesia will soon find itself haemorrhaging talent left right and centre.”
Among the countries popular with Indonesian professionals seeking a new life abroad is Singapore.
In response to the data, Minister of Investment Bahlil Lahadalia questioned the “patriotism” of the former Indonesians saying, “They shouldn’t just think of their own needs and cast off their birth country so easily!”
But Damelina said Indonesians opting to give up their citizenship should not be stigmatised, least of all by the government.
“Instead of portraying them as unpatriotic, the government must ask what can be done to prevent them from thinking the grass is greener on the other side.”
She suggested Indonesia should strengthen efforts to develop its scientific research and development sectors so that highly skilled individuals can obtain meaningful employment in the country.
“I know Indonesian academics and researchers who work overseas and still care so much about Indonesia,” Damelina said.
During her overseas campaigns to meet voters from her constituency, Marsha said she encountered considerable goodwill towards the “old country” among the diaspora, including those who were no longer Indonesians.
“I remember meeting this tall young man, originally from Kupang [capital of East Nusa Tenggara], who is now a Swiss citizen. He told me he always went back to his hometown every year with his Swiss girlfriend.”
“I work for a hi-tech corporation and travel to different parts of the world, often at very short notice,” said Teguh, who was born in Surabaya.
He explained he had to constantly juggle between his visa applications and travel planning when he was using his Indonesian passport. “I missed quite a few important meetings overseas because my visa hadn’t been cleared by the time I had to be there, usually for European destinations.”
When the company he worked for offered to sponsor his US citizenship, Teguh decided to relinquish his Indonesian citizenship.
“I would’ve loved to retain it while also being a US citizen, but under current Indonesian law, that is illegal.”
Zendy Wulan Ayu Widhi Prameswari, a lecturer of constitutional law at Surabaya’s University of Airlangga, said the Indonesian constitution does not explicitly forbid dual citizenship.
“In principle, it is doable as long as both the government and the House of Representatives can agree on a format for a revised bill.”
She said legislative work to redraft the law was tabled in 2014 but little progress has been made since, adding that it is a “non-priority” bill for the government.
Marsha said, however, that her party and a few others support the idea of dual citizenship and were determined to push the law through if elected.
“Under my proposal, Indonesians are allowed dual citizenship unless they choose to enter politics or become public officials, at which point they must have undivided loyalty to the nation.”
Zendy warned it would also not be easy to sway public opinion on the issue. “Sadly, it is ingrained among Indonesians that taking up a foreign citizenship is a disloyal act to the motherland, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Damelina is optimistic about a change in official attitudes on this issue in Indonesia.
“While it would take time to develop Indonesia’s capability to absorb specific hi-tech jobs, the government should cultivate the existing goodwill of diaspora Indonesians to contribute to the nation in other ways.”
She said the foreign affairs ministry has taken the right steps by compiling data and issuing an Indonesian diaspora card for former citizens living overseas.
Indonesian politicians should see it is in the country’s best interest to give citizenship options to former Indonesians, Damelina said.
“It shouldn’t be a question of whether a citizen chooses to ditch his or her country, but should the motherland abandon her children for petty reasons?”