Dual citizenship controversies take the shine off Indonesia’s national celebrations

Photo: Joko Widodo official Facebook page

By Fawnia

The nationwide celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day 2016 was a double triumph. As well as the flag-waving festivities to celebrate 71 years of independence, Indonesian mixed doubles pair Tontowi Ahmad and Liliyana Natsir’s took a gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

Alongside the sparkling festival atmosphere, this year’s event was an opportunity to see how far Indonesia has come as a country. In his state address, Indonesia President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo mentioned his and his predecessors’ failure to break the “chain of poverty.” He also outlines how the previous presidents had done their best to tackle the nation’s three main challenges; severing the chain of poverty, breaking the chains of unemployment, and narrowing society’s social gaps.

Jokowi also drew attention to positive results this past year, such as economic growth. For the year ahead there were three practical steps to be taken; accelerate infrastructure development, improve human resources and minimize bureaucracy.

A hidden side?

However, this year’s Independence Day was not completely controversy-free. Only two days before the celebration, newly-selected Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Arcandra Tahar left the position he had held for only 19 days.

The controversy broke following reports Arcandra has a US passport when Indonesia does not allow dual-citizenship. Details of the minister’s situation quickly went viral on social media channels, with allegations of violating immigration and state ministry laws.

This leaves him in an awkward position. According to Indonesian law, holding a US passport means he has lost his right to own national papers. At the same time, US law states that members of a foreign government cannot hold an American passport.  As a result, he is now stateless.

Arcandra is currently being assisted by the government to have his Indonesian citizenship reinstated.  Senior sources say he may even rejoin the cabinet as long as his citizenship issue is cleared up.

Shattered dreams

On a similar note, Gloria Natapradja Hamel, an Indonesian girl from Depok, West Java, had to give up her dream of being inaugurated as a flag-carrying Paskibraka team member after she was found to have French citizenship. Gloria was born to an Indonesian mother and a French father, and can only apply for Indonesian citizenship once she turns 18.

She spent months undergoing intense training to join the Paskibraka team the lost her place two days before the flag ceremony despite an attempt to write to the President for his assistance.

The back-to-back dual citizenship cases have caused the public to question just how inflexible the law had become. Through Twitter, Indonesian netizens trended #ArchandraAnakBangsa (meaning Arcandra is a son of the nation) to defend the minister. Petition website change.org saw a request to keep Gloria as the member of Paskibraka team gain over 20,000 signatures. The government remained unmoved.

Society’s view

The issue, again, lies in how quickly a citizenship issue can expose unpleasant undercurrents in Indonesian society. Though Gloria received public support she had to deal with the accusation of being a “traitor” or even dubbed as a “double agent”. She was forced to let months of grueling training go to waste, simply because she was not old enough to choose her citizenship. Both Arcendra and Gloria had repeatedly mentioned that they consider themselves to be Indonesian.

As the government has signaled that it may allow dual citizenship in the future, we can only wait and see how the renewed policy will help. Hopefully, this year’s controversy has served as a lesson. To become a diverse country, Indonesia first needs to be more open-minded. The country must look forward to the elimination of rigid bureaucracy; and a more diverse and united Indonesia.