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Researching political engagement in Southeast Asia

March 14, 2019
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ANN ARBOR —  A third-year Joint-PhD student in Public Policy and Political Science, Eitan Paul has a long history of political engagement.

“As the grandson of Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States, I have been keenly aware from an early age, how political institutions and behaviors can facilitate oppression or opportunity,” Paul said.

Now, Paul has found his specialty in Comparative Politics, focusing on social accountability in Southeast Asia. His projects have led to extensive research in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste during his time at U-M.

“I decided to study Comparative Politics to learn more about the conditions under which people outside the government can influence government policies and performance on issues like corruption and human rights,” he said.

This global researcher, who also takes Bahasa, Indonesian language classes at U-M, decided to make Southeast Asia his region of focus after working at an NGO in Cambodia.

“There, I observed courageous civil society and opposition party leaders engage in a non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights,” he said of his experience in Cambodia.

Paul described his research protocol similar to a clinical trial—there are ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ groups in social accountability research, too. He is testing the impact of interventions by civil society organizations, assessing the quality of transparency and accountability in their initiatives.

“As part of my preliminary PhD research, I have interviewed dozens of civil society leaders, politicians, and bureaucrats in Southeast Asia,” he added.

Paul is grateful for the support and scholarships he has received from U-M centers—the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies and the International Policy Center at the Ford School that has allowed him to do his research and for the valuable advice from his mentors Allen Hicken and Nico Ravanilla.

“It’s great to be part of such a supportive community,” he said. “Go Blue!”

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