By Dr. Gerard Finin, Deputy Director of PIDP and project director of the Election Observation Mission
In November 2008 the Department of State contacted the East-West Center to discuss the possibility of submitting a competitive grant proposal to lead an international Election Observation Mission to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The FSM is a country that has a long and close association with the East-West Center. Prior to nationhood in 1986, the EWC during the UN Trust Territory era made special efforts to recruit and help educate future leaders from across Micronesia. Based on initiatives undertaken both before and after independence, some 725 individuals from the FSM have participated in EWC programs, with 46 baccalaureate or master’s degrees being awarded through the University of Hawaii. All but one of the FSM’s presidents is counted as part of the EWC alumni organization.
A critical prerequisite to our involvement hinged on receiving the FSM’s invitation to have an international Election Observation Mission organized by the EWC. Based on our years of cooperative activities with FSM, we were aware of the strong overall record of holding fair and honest elections that were free of bribery, coercion or violence. However, the dearth of national and local newspapers or news organizations suggested there might be insufficient critical oversight or public knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of election protocols and processes. To be sure, we were aware of the logistical complexities posed by hundreds of voting sites that are distant from administrative centers.
Given the high level of trust built upon the extensive alumni network, the Center’s Pacific Islands Development Program proceeded to put together a high quality team of observers, many of whom had previously spent time at the EWC. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor also provided significant assistance by suggesting individuals who were well qualified for the EOM activity. Once in country, EWC alumni from the College of Micronesia Chuuk campus were particularly helpful in providing faculty for the group’s orientation program, and also identifying some of Chuuk’s best and brightest college students to accompany the observers to their home islands on Election Day, March 3, where they served as interpreters. Continue reading
By Scott Kroeker, JCC Project Officer, PIDP
Along the southeast coast of Weno, Chuuk where myself and three others were trekking, we kept coming across quite new fire hydrants complete with four concrete posts to prevent vehicles from knocking them over. This wouldn’t be unusual except for the fact that we were trekking on a dirt footpath, the only access to this part of the island, and we had left the nearest road at least 30 minutes ago and hadn’t seen a structure of any sort. Later we found out that the fire hydrants were part of an Asian Development Bank project, which I’m sure was a relief to two of my fellow trekkers who were representatives from the U.S. Department of State and who had been fully convinced that this was another example of how badly the Department of Interior had screwed up in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).
This was only one of many fascinating experiences I had while working on an East-West Center coordinated International Election Observation Mission to the FSM. We weren’t actually trekking through the jungle looking for harebrained development projects, but instead were in search of three or four polling stations supposedly located along this roadless stretch of verdant coastline. After passing idyllic (to outsiders) and typically cliché scenes of young girls washing their laundry in the steams, young adults playing volleyball near the mangrove covered shoreline, and several beautiful churches that seems to rise out of the jungle, we finally emerged at a small village where we found the only polling station we saw that day. It was located in the open veranda part of someone’s house and the owner proudly retrieved the ballot box from its location locked in the main house. He showed us the box, which was also locked as it should be, and he told us that it would be opened at 7 a.m. the next day for the balloting to begin.
After that hour and a half trek, covered in sweat, we felt like we had accomplished our mission. We had been able to observe pre-election activities and organization. We could now retreat up the path back to our 4×4 and eventually the comfort of our air conditioned hotel for a beer. The next day would be the election and we hoped it would come off better than the fire hydrant installation project.
By Teguh Santosa, EWC Degree Fellow in Political Science from Medan, Indonesia
I just came back from a ten-day trip to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) where I participated in the Election Observation Mission (EOM) funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The project was organized by the EWC’s Pacific Islands Development Program (PIDP) together with the Asia Pacific Democracy Partnership (APDP), an informal coalition of democratic states formed to support, develop and extend democracy promotion in the region.
I truly feel honored and grateful for this precious opportunity. For me the Pacific Ocean is a living mysterious puzzle of the world. I didn’t have many ideas about the Pacific islands before. I might be wrong, but it seems to me that many Indonesians tend to ignore these islands. For me, the main story about the Pacific came from a few war movies and some readings about the Second World War, one of my areas of interest.
Visiting the FSM has given me an important opportunity to learn more and connect with the region. Before I left to the FSM I spent some time reading articles about the country and the region in general – the beauty of its lagoons, its historical stories, its people and cultures, and its role in the current context of global politics. Based on these readings and my personal experiences in the FSM and Chuuk state in particular, so far I have written 13 short articles that have been published in my newspaper’s online version and on my personal website. I hope these articles raise awareness amongst Indonesian readers about the Pacific islands in general and particularly, the FSM. Continue reading