Friday, September 11, 2015

Dual Citizenship – One Man/Woman - Two Votes

This topic has in the past been the subject of many discussions and varying standpoints in Cambodia. At first glance it may be an issue of law – whatever the law of the land states is generally accepted. Differing interpretations are, of course, determined by moral aspects, and there is no clear-cut singular concept. There is no absolute line what is right and what is wrong in this respect.

Cambodia had many overseas Cambodians returning after 1993. Many of those had acquired the nationality of their adopted country, in most cases the U. S., Australia, or France. They were welcomed as they brought much-needed skills the country did not have. (Although sometimes one had to question what a donut baker would bring to the table in terms of administrative experience. During the Funcinpec/CPP coalition one such was sent to the U.N. as second secretary.)  It was considered a question of unity. The question of nationality had not even come up then. Cambodians born in Cambodia are automatically Cambodian nationals. Therefore, they could return any time. This has been the policy since 1993.

In the aftermath of political conflicts with members of the opposition parties, most notably the leaders of Funcinpec, Prince Ranariddh, and Sam Rainsy of the eponymous party, who had fled the country when they were sentenced to prison terms after being tried for several offenses under Cambodia law, the ruling party began a discussion for single nationality. Initially, this might have been a vindictive thought so that people could not just escape justice by leaving the country, but later it also gained some traction with independent political analysts. Of late the discussion revolved around holders of public office, e. g. members of parliament, the senate, ministers, state secretaries, etc.

Other countries, like the U. S., the U. K, and Australia allow dual citizenship, as does Germany but limited to the E.U. countries. France for one does not allow dual citizenship. Several Cambodians hold both Cambodian and French nationality, which is an obvious contradiction but Cambodian nationality was obtained by birthright and French by acquisition. Cambodians did not have to renounce their Cambodian nationality, which they could practically never lose as long as they were born in Cambodia.

The U. S. allows public office holders dual citizenship; the underlying reason probably being that it still considers itself an immigration country, whereas most European nations do not despite the fact that mainly the former colonial powers have become immigration countries with many people from their former colonies settling there, while Germany is a magnet for immigrants because of its economic power.

Notwithstanding the different rules for public office in terms of nationality, the one contention that many opponents put forth is that there is a conflict of interest for those in public office. Which country has their allegiance? When becoming a naturalized citizen of a country other than their birth country, people have to swear an oath of allegiance to uphold the laws and defend their new country. And this is exactly the point where the moral, if not legal, problem lies. When people become citizens of another country they choose this country as their new home. They vow that their interest and center of life now lies in the new country. They subject themselves to the laws of the new country in all respects. In most instances permanent residence of a certain duration is a prerequisite for applying for nationality. Residents could just retain their old nationality if their ties to their birth country were still closer than to their adopted country. Because of their refugee status most Cambodians didn’t have any personal legal documents with them. The excuse that they would need valid legal identifications in their new country and only naturalization would afford them those is not acceptable. Legal Ids were and are issued to residents too. In other words they consciously chose to make the new country their home, and to sever their political and legal, if not emotional and spiritual, ties to Cambodia.

In this context it is quite interesting to learn whether all people with dual nationality file their tax returns in their adopted country. If you are a European or North American citizen, for instance, you are required to file a tax return for your world-wide income there (with the possible benefits of a double taxation treaty, which Cambodia does not have with any of those countries).

For MPs allegiance might become significant when it comes to voting on legislation that concerns and affects both countries. In Cambodia’s case there is no great risk of this happening it seems, as most legislation at the present time concerns Cambodian interests. There is nothing that the Assembly could vote on that would benefit another country, with the exception of its neighbors. There is, however, no known public official who holds both Thai or Vietnamese and Cambodian citizenship.

Opponents have a point in doubting or questioning loyalty. It is easy to take a political risk including inflammatory speeches that might lead to legal repercussions, or even abuse one’s official authority when a second passport makes it very convenient to leave for distant shores to avoid responsibility. As in Sam Rainsy’s case he used that option three times in the past. Even currently he uses very strong language knowing that if it indeed backfires he can once again leave and go into self-imposed exile as it was euphemistically called. One has to admire Kem Sokha, without agreeing to his statements and policies, that he keeps firing away at the governing party without having that recourse of a second passport.

In the U. S. which is frequently used as a model, the President must be a U. S. born citizen. There is no law barring him from having a second nationality. Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested that the PM in Cambodia should have only one nationality. Most people, even the ones that are neutral in Cambodian politics, would probably agree. I am not so sure about the MPs, senators, etc., but it would make sense. They were elected by their constituencies to represent them in parliament and promote their inherently Cambodian interests. As no foreign national is allowed to do that why should a Cambodian with dual citizenship be able to do that?  

Democracies have the one man, one vote rule. This rule is certainly undermined by dual citizenship. A person can vote in elections in both countries. Admittedly, this may be a small number in the grand scheme of things, but in terms of logic it is not correct. It would also certainly be a legal aberration if a Cambodian MP with U. S. citizenship votes in the U. S. presidential elections next year, or the French elections.

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