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Indonesian Update #1

7 August 2007
Written by

Dear Vote-Smarters,

I've come to the end of my first official day here in Indonesia and I wanted to send everyone an update on what I have done so far. My first impression of Jakarta is that it is an incredibly diverse and vibrant city filled with a variety of sights, sounds and smells. I had the privilege today to meet with two different groups of politically active young people in Jakarta and nationwide. The first group you can see in the picture to above. It is Walhi, which is the leading environmental advocacy group in the entire country of Indonesia. It is staffed and run by young people from across the ethnic and geographic groups of the country and looks like a green version of Project Vote Smart. It was a pleasure to meet all these young people that are working very hard to get their fellow Indonesians to get politically active on environmental issues. Pollution and recycling were their biggest issues they are currently conducting campaigns on right now. One of their projects is turning product wrappers (candy bars, soap, etc.) into wallets, purses, and duffle bags and thus keeping plastic coated wrappers out of landfills.

The other group that I met with today was LSI or Lembaga Survei Indonesia, the country's only independent polling organization. I got a chance to have a very in-depth discussion with Saiful Mujani, the director of LSI, and his senior researchers about how LSI has developed its research capacity and media campaigns over the last ten years of democracy in Indonesia. In many ways, LSI is very similar to Project Vote Smart in that it tries to share political information. The difference is that it is gathering information on political issues important to average Indonesians and then sharing this with the media. Saiful is regularly interviewed on Indonesian TV and by newspaper reporters and has the kind of access that PVS could only hope for. They also have 1200 trained interviewers and pollsters working across the 17,000 islands of the country, which in itself presents certain logistical and communications challenges. Still, Saiful and his staff were very impressed with the depth of information that PVS was able to gather on candidates and provide free to citizens. In his words, he found PVS "inspirational in what we could some day do here in Indonesia by educating voters about those seeking their vote."

I've been honored to have supremely good help from the American embassy staff in making my trip very pleasant, easy and comfortable. My embassy liaison, Robyn Remeika, and translator, Toto, have been particularly kind and gracious in getting me from one place to the next among the 9 million people here in the capital. One of my guides calls Jakarta a Pandora's box full of surprises and, after only a day here, I have had one pleasant surprise after another. It is a rich city and a welcoming place that I look forward to exploring more.


Related tags: blog, democracy, Indonesia, staff-members

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