Navigating the Space Between National Ties and Nationalities

The removal of Dr Ting Tiong Choon from the Sarawak State Legislative Council has opened up a can of worms with regards to citizenship, national loyalties and the right to stand for elections in this country.

The removal of Dr Ting Tiong Choon from the Sarawak State Legislative Council has opened up a can of worms with regards to citizenship, national loyalties and the right to stand for elections in this country.

In an unprecedented case, the Pujut assemblyman was disqualified on the grounds of obtaining an Australian citizenship in 2010. Although he has since admitted this, Dr Ting claims that he had renounced it before running for elected office.

Still, his disqualification begs the question, does citizenship denote loyalty to a country? Further, can a person who has been a citizen of another country (while maintaining a Malaysian citizenship) be allowed to return and serve Malaysia?


Merits of duality

While I might have my personal reservations, some peers have put forth solid points on the merits of dual citizenship and whether Malaysia should allow it.

For one, it would partially solve the brain drain problem.

Many Malaysians want to retain ties to this country and yet be able to maximise their exposure abroad. Although there are options to obtain permanent resident (PR) status of an adopted country, it cannot be denied that citizenships of more developed countries come with greater benefits like free healthcare, better education and quite possibly a better quality of life.

These benefits have enticed many Malaysians to leave and spend a longer time abroad quite possibly gaining citizenship in the process. According to a statement by Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, there has been a total of 54, 406 Malaysians have renounced their citizenship between 2010 and January 31, 2016

Through conversations with friends and relatives who have done so, most cite the economy, political climate and children as main factors for moving abroad.

Secondly, dual citizenship will allow Malaysia to attract the best and brightest talent into the country.

In a globalised world, nations must adapt their policies to remain competitive. Much of the developed world including the US, UK and Canada allow dual citizenship so what is holding us back?

Indeed it is staggering to read that 50% of Malaysian Chinese want to move abroad for greener pastures. Could this demographic be convinced to stay or quite possible be replaced by individuals with a Malaysian dual nationality, ever willing to serve their adopted nation?

We have already seen this in football with overseas-born individuals like Matthew Davies, Brendan Gan and Khair Jones taking up the Malaysian citizenship for the opportunity to don the national jersey. They bring with them a unique set of skills, attitude and physicality to Harimau Malaya.


Who is to blame?

Coming back to Dr Ting’s case, the very fact that he could register as a candidate does not bode well for the Election Commission (EC). How could an unqualified candidate slip through the cracks, run for an election, win and sit in the state assembly for a more than a year before disqualification?

Since there is no worldwide database on citizenships, the onus is on the EC to carry out thorough background checks on potential elected officials.

Additionally, revocation of Malaysian citizenship upon gaining another country’s is not automatic. According to the Article 24 (1) of the Federal Constitution; ‘If the Federal Government is satisfied that any citizen has acquired…the citizenship of any country outside the Federation, the Federal Government may by order deprive that person of his citizenship.

Hence, the responsibility squarely falls on the government’s shoulders.

Theoretically, one can become a dual citizen by taking up the citizenship of another country and not declaring it to the Malaysian government. If Malaysia is convinced on maintaining its single nationality policy, the Federal Constitution must be amended to make the revocation automatic.

I personally opine that it is unacceptable for an elected official to be a citizen of another country even if he was one in the past. Dual nationalities aside, how can one serve the people who voted for you when one has stake in another country?

There is nothing to stop said person from abandoning the very ship he or she was entrusted to navigate through uncertain waters.


An imagined community

In the end, a nation is an imagined society, as described by the late Professor Emeritus Benedict Anderson. He argues that although members of even the smallest country will never have the chance to meet one another, all of them have similar interests or identify themselves as part of a nation; that’s why it is imagined.

We have and perhaps will continue to struggle to define what it is to be a Malaysian. After all, there is no pure Malaysian; someone that we can compare ourselves to. By virtue of having 30 million other fellow rakyat from all corners of this blessed country, we have 30 million different personalities, each with individual needs and wants.

However, certain traits and interests bind us, even though we might have chosen to hold a different passport. Mention nasi lemak, roti canai or teh tarik, our faces light up. All holidays are celebrated with the equal vigour. We speak in Manglish or pretty much whatever our convoluted vocabulary can assemble.

Whether we like it or not, we are somewhat products of our own national propaganda when it comes to patriotism and choosing allegiance to a country. Nevertheless, the decision to leave or stay should be a personal one, and the law should reflect that.

With the government eager to hear the rakyat out through Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) sessions, perhaps it is time for one to debate our national ties and nationalities.

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