April 15, 2013
Arguing that their numbers are big enough to constitute an electoral district, advocates for Indonesians living abroad are seeking parliamentary seats to represent the 4.5 million Indonesians registered with 167 Indonesian diplomatic missions worldwide.
Indonesia's Constitutional Court recently held hearings on the matter, and the Indonesian Diaspora Network is urging the court to issue a ruling well ahead of 2014 national elections.
Currently, voters abroad are registered to the Jakarta II electoral district, which covers Central and South Jakarta and has seven of the 560 seats in the House of Representatives (DPR).
Wahyudi Djafar, a lawyer for the network, said the total number of Indonesians living outside the country may be closer to 8 million, if unregistered citizens are taken into account.
"Considering the significant number of Indonesians abroad, it would be unconstitutional to deny them their own electoral areas," Wahyudi said at a discussion in Jakarta in February.
He added that, conceptually, there should be no problems establishing overseas electoral districts, since the network is not asking for additional seats in the House, but for reassignment of seats from electoral areas that are overrepresented.
The vast majority of Indonesian nationals registered abroad – 2.5 million – are in neighbouring Malaysia, most of them working as domestic, plantation, and construction workers.
Wahyu Susilo, a policy analyst from the migrant workers' rights group Migrant Care, said that while Indonesian migrant workers in Malaysia count as the highest number of voters living abroad, their electoral participation has been very low in previous elections.
Creating Indonesian overseas electoral districts could encourage participation, Wahyu told Khabar Southeast Asia. "They would feel that they can have a say in the legislation processes taking place at home, especially those pertaining to their living abroad," he said.
"There are 4.5 million registered Indonesians abroad that don't have a clue of who their representatives are. That is why we need to establish electoral districts dedicated to the overseas voters," said Veri Junaidi, another lawyer for the network.
"Having representation for overseas voters would nurture stronger connections between them and their home country."
Contributing to their home country
Expatriate Indonesians are at the forefront of maintaining people-to-people relations as well as government-to-government ones between Indonesia and their countries of residence, members of the network say.
Further, migrant workers in the informal sectors have contributed significantly to the Indonesian economy through their remittances, which increased dramatically from $1.5 billion in 2003 to $6.9 billion in 2010, according to World Bank figures.
Yet "they can't contribute politically because there is no representation for the overseas voters in the parliament," said Dutamardin Umar, a member of the group.
Remittances are only one of many potential contributions the diaspora can make to Indonesia, according to Mohamad Al-Arief, the head of the network. Other countries with large diaspora populations, such as India and the Philippines, have already established such a system, he said.
"We don't want our diaspora to become apolitical. We want to increase the low overseas voter turnout," Mohamad said.
Nico Harjanto, a political researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that Indonesia's constitution does not preclude the establishment of overseas electoral districts.
"The most viable solution could be to add seats designated for overseas voters to the Jakarta II electoral district … Reassigning seats from overrepresented areas would be politically risky since they might resist the idea," said Nico, who testified at the hearings as an expert witness.