Singapore PR hopes to run in next Indonesian election

He aims to be first MP representing 4.5m Indonesians living overseas

HE MAY be only 26, but Singapore permanent resident Yoga Dirga Cahya hopes to run in the next Indonesian election to become the first Member of Parliament representing 4.5 million Indonesians living overseas.

The Indonesian citizen's candidacy was confirmed by the National Mandate Party, a party under the ruling Democratic Party coalition, last month.

He told The Straits Times that his nine years spent living here have influenced his decision to run for the election.

"It was in Singapore that I first volunteered with the Indonesian diaspora and knew their issues," said Mr Yoga, who is awaiting confirmation by the Indonesian Elections Commission in August.

The election is scheduled to take place on April 9 next year. Hailing from Jakarta, Mr Yoga came to Singapore at the age of 18 to study at Nanyang Technological University's School of Biological Sciences, with the aid of a Ministry of Education tuition grant.

He served out his three-year bond at the National Environment Agency (NEA) while volunteering with the Indonesian community here.

Eventually he became chairman of the Indonesian Associations' Forum. His decision to join politics was spurred on by his experience in teaching Indonesian domestic helpers at the Sekolah Indonesia Singapura (Singapore Indonesian School). That was when he first learnt of their plight.

"Coming mostly from small villages, many times they feel unprepared and depressed living in a big city with many unfamiliar appliances. In many cases, the recruitment agencies falsify their names, addresses, and even ages to satisfy the regulations," he claimed.

Some may become depressed trying to adapt to big city life, leading to conflict between worker and employer, he added.

Mr Yoga wants to better monitor the performance of Indonesia's BNP2TKI, the Indonesian government agency responsible for training and placing migrant workers overseas.

"I hope to make this one of my priorities so that Singaporeans can have better domestic helpers and Indonesian domestic helpers can adjust better here," he said.

He also aims to deal with the extortion of Indonesian migrant workers by "airport officials, custom, immigration, even travel agencies" on their return journey, and raise funds for the upgrading of Indonesian students overseas.

Mr Yoga came to Singapore in 2004 for a better education.

"Many Singaporeans go overseas and get the best education, and they come home and work and contribute to their society. I wish to do the same for mine," said the NEA public officer who plans to leave his job in July to focus on his campaign. "Being familiar with Singapore's system, I will be able to bridge both countries' interests more efficiently."

He is slated to run for a seat representing the overseas constituency, and South and Central Jakarta. His campaign will run online and in his country's capital where he will focus on issues such as good governance, a clean Parliament and better rule of law.

According to the Indonesian Embassy, there are about 200,000 Indonesians here, 120,000 of whom are domestic helpers. Around 18,000 Indonesians here voted in the last election in 2009, Mr Yoga said.

He admires the "clean and efficient" political system here which has helped the Republic to achieve a high level of development.

Things are different in Indonesia. "There is this entrenched perception among Indonesians that politics is dirty," Mr Yoga said. "But if nobody wants to step up and kick-start change, then naturally no change will occur."

kashc@sph.com.sg