Thursday, July 31, 2008

Malaysia joins cream of the crop in health destination


It seems that Malaysia never relents in its efforts to attract foreign tourists. After its success in promoting the country's beauty through the "Truly Asia" campaign, now it is trying to increase its foreign income by netting customers, or patients to be precise, for its sophisticated hospitals.

Malaysia has for some time viewed and analyzed the success of Singapore in promoting itself as a medical destination. Just like Singapore, where Indonesians comprise 75 percent of foreign patients, Malaysia is also targeting Indonesians in its main strategy. By making Indonesia its main market, Malaysia will be competing head on with Singapore. Indonesia is indeed an attractive market as about 200,000 patients choose to have treatment abroad, with the entire business being worth at least US$600 million annually.

A number of foreign hospitals have affiliated with Indonesian hospitals to get a slice of the lucrative Indonesian market. One such Indonesian hospital is the Medika hospital group, which is a member of the Johor Medical Association or Kumpulan Perubatan Johor (KPJ) Healthcare Bhd Group of Hospitals, Malaysia. The Malaysian partner has invested in building the Medika Bumi Serpong Damai Hospital, which will be located close to Omni International Hospital.

KPJ Healthcare Bhd Group of Hospitals owns other hospitals, namely Medika Permata Hijau and Selasih Padang Hospitals. A number of other foreign hospitals have partnered with local hospitals and are also building new hospitals here.

Today Malaysia is among the top five medical destinations after Panama, which is No. 1, followed by Brazil, Costa Rica and India consecutively. Nuwire Investors Online data on investment opportunities indicate that the countries are ranked based on the quality and capacity of medical services and their willingness to accept foreign investors.

Malaysia offers a number of medical services and procedures, including dental, cosmetic and heart surgery at prices that are much lower than those in the U.S. For both foreign patients and investors, the rate for the Malaysian ringgit is also favorable, while the country's economic and political situation are stable and the literacy rate is very high.

This Malaysian industry has grown significantly over the past couple of years, with the number of foreign patients in 2006 reaching 296,687 and an income of about US$59 million. The Malaysian Hospital Association predicts the number will grow by an average of 30 percent annually until 2010.

Hospitals-Malaysia.org claims that Malaysia offers a network of hospitals and clinics that are very comprehensive with 88.5 percent of the country's population living within three kilometers of the clinics or private practitioners.

Included in Malaysia's medical tourism destination campaign are 35 private hospitals that are expected to enhance the campaign. And, Indonesia is definitely one country being targeted in the campaign. One high-ranking official at the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) said Indonesia was considered an easy market. Indeed, many Indonesians may opt for Malaysia as it has a number of plus points, one of which is cost.

While some local hospitals have facilities of international standard, their charges are relatively high. Many Indonesians, rather than choose costly local medication, choose to go abroad for treatment at a lower cost, and at the same time have the added option of go sightseeing.

Ashadi Lubis, a resident of Medan, North Sumatra, is a perfect example. The export and import businessman has been having annual checkups in Penang, Malaysia, since 1994. He is satisfied with the services and facilities of the hospital there. It is not surprising that his family members also entrust their medical care to the hospital. Next to the superior services and facilities, the cost is relatively low, he said. "My mother had a gallstone operation for only Rp 18 million, including medicine, doctors' fees and the operation itself," he explained.

Based on the favorable value of the Malaysian ringgit and the low cost of living, medical care there costs much less than in the U.S. or Europe. Hence, for Indonesians going abroad for medical treatment, especially to Malaysia, is no longer a luxury. Such a visit could be for a simple general checkup or treatment for a serious ailment. Indeed, Malaysia pampers its patients with facilities that include rooms and services that are on par with a five-star hotel. Some even surpass luxury hotels. However, most important is the world-class medical care and surgery. (Burhanuddin Abe)

The Jakarta Post, July 31, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

What to choose: Budget or green car?


The Indonesia International Motor Show 2008 (IIMS 2008) at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC) ended on July 20, with green cars being the main attraction and budget cars remaining the prima donnas.

National Geographic magazine has reported that Indonesia is one of the countries that produces the largest amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). The increasing number of automobiles has been blamed for the nation's air pollution, particularly in Jakarta. But like it or not, cars with high emissions still reign on our roads.

The president director of Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), Katsuaki Watanabe, said in Tokyo recently that he estimated the demand for cars in the world would continue to rise, particularly in developing countries. He projects that there will be over one billion vehicles in the world by 2010, and 1.5 billion by 2020.

In Indonesia, although the price of fuel continues to rise, the demand for automobiles continues to increase. Up to the first semester of this year, 290,000 car sales were recorded, exceeding the original target. Despite the recession and high oil prices, Gaikindo is still optimistic that the 2008 target of 520,000 vehicles will be reached.

The question is whether the expanding automotive market will be coupled with efforts to minimize the impact of pollution. Environmentalists must realize that there is not much of a future for the automobile industry if it does not care about global warming and the development of alternative energy.

Indeed, there have been efforts to develop "green" cars. Environmentally friendly automotive technology is being developed, comprising hybrid cars with electric and gasoline engines, cars using 100 percent vegetable fuel and cars that run on hydrogen with a target of zero emission. TMC has the distinction of being the only company in the world to have sold over 1.5 million hybrid cars in one decade since the kickoff of production of hybrid cars in 1997.

Not only Japanese carmakers but also a number of other automotive producers have focused their efforts on the development of green cars in order to curb the accelerated effect of global warming and climate change, two things that could lower the quality of human life in future.

Meanwhile, Association of Indonesian Automotive Industries (Gaikindo) chairman Bambang Trisulo has expressed hope that the government would lend support to stimulate the green car market. "If hybrid cars are to be developed in Indonesia, the government must first encourage the growth of the market by means of providing a fiscal incentive so that the price of the cars will be lower," he said.

However, a car using technology that can cut down on emission is not a big trend in Indonesia or in other parts of the world. As acknowledged by Industry Minister Fahmi Idris, a hybrid car or an environmentally friendly concept car is simply the result of carmakers in creating a particular trend. "This is not the automotive trend of the world; it is the trend of manufacturers. The trend in the demand for cars today is a small, cheap and efficient car," he said.

That's why the National Industrial Development Policies (KPIN) drawn up by the Industry Ministry only states that the automotive industry or the industry producing overland transportation means is the future prime industry in 2025, with a focus on the development of small sedans, multipurpose vans and commercial cars.

Everyone agrees that caring for the environment is very important amid the increasing demand for cars in Indonesia. However, it appears that the government is not that concerned about the green technology being developed by carmakers given the fact that the per capita income is still low and that a car is not a primary necessity.

More interestingly, the global trend is actually leaning toward the development of small and cheap cars. Indian automaker Tata, for example, has produced the Nano, claimed to be the cheapest car in the world. Carmakers of the class of Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and even Chrysler and BMW obviously see a very big market opportunity in this newly created segment. The recent Beijing Auto Show 2008 clearly illustrated this.

So don't be surprised to see in the not too distant future, or to be exact in another year or two, the streets of the world full of small cars of various makes. One carmaker that has declared its readiness is Mitsubishi, which will launch a budget car in 2010.

This budget car will use the platform of one of the existing Mitsubishi kei cars. Kei is short for the Japanese term Kei Jidosha, or light vehicle with an engine capacity of less than 660 cc with no more than 64 horsepower. This model will be marketed not only in Japan but also in Eastern Europe, China and Southeast Asia.

Not wanting to be left behind, TMC, in an effort to reinforce its position, has invested US$350 million to build its second new factory in Bidadi, India, for the production of its small cars.

These small cars, the company said, will later be exported as well as sold domestically. Toyota Kirloskar Motor is nurturing an ambition to secure 10 percent of the Indian car market in 2010. "This new car is expected to help reach this target," said K.K. Swamy, deputy managing director of Toyota Kirloskar Motor, TMC's partner in India.

The market of small cars in Indonesia has indeed lured global carmakers. Honda is also set to establish a new factory in Rajasthan in order to be able to flood the market with its small cars in 2009, a year earlier than its competitors. Reportedly, General Motors will also enter this segment. At present, the small car market in India is dominated by Maruti Suzuki, which has secured over 50 percent of the market.

Interestingly, even BMW, a German carmaker normally engaged in the premium car segment, is also eyeing a market share in this class. Obviously BMW realizes there is a lot of money to be made in selling hundreds of thousands of small cars with lower profit margins than premium cars.

This German carmaker is preparing a smaller but more luxurious version of the Nano. This manufacturer does not want to compete directly with the Nano but wishes to enter the segment in which Mercedes-Benz has its Smart and is ready to fight with the Fiat 500, and with the Toyota IQ, a newcomer to this segment.

What about China? This country has its Chery, the champion in the category of compact cars, and now it has launched the Faira, the latest model, which is more stylish. This car comes in two choices of engines (1.3 liter and 1.5 liter) and three choices of body (three-door, four-door and five-door). Chery has successfully expanded its market and one of its products -- the Chery QQ -- has become one of the best-selling cars in China and is now trying the Indonesian market. So, what do you choose -- a budget or green car? (Burhanuddin Abe

The Jakarta Post, July 22, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sharia insurance, an untapped product with potential



THE majority of Indonesia's population is Muslim, but products based on Islamic law or sharia have been developed only recently, that is in the past three or four years. Indeed some Muslims consider insurance to be against the laws of God, but others are of the opinion that accidents, misfortune and death are God's creation. So it is allowed, according to them, to minimize the risk, especially the financial risks that may occur. One's efforts, like savings, are often not sufficient, so one should turn to sharia insurance instead.

In short, taking insurance is not against God's will, in fact, God advises us to plan for our future and protect it by, among other things, sharia insurance. In conventional life insurance there are three factors that are considered as sins by the ulema: gharar (funds that are not transparent), maisir (gambling) and riba (interest). The sharia insurance avoids all three forbidden factors.

There is not much difference between conventional and sharia insurance procedure-wise. However, the basic difference lies in transaction agreement. In conventional insurance a customer purchases protection, while in sharia insurance a customer agrees to commit himself or herself in a community that is based on paying damages for each other should a catastrophe or accident occur.

This very principle is applied by PT Asuransi Takaful Indonesia (ATI), which was established in 1994. The company is a pioneer in sharia insurance in Indonesia. It is also the largest among the country's sharia insurance companies in terms of premium revenue. In 2007, its gross revenue increased drastically by 47.7 percent to Rp 352.01 billion (about US$38 million), from Rp 238.39 billion in the previous year. Two subsidiaries of the company have contributed to the 2007 figure, PT Asuransi Takaful Keluarga (ATK), 71 percent, and PT Asuransi Takaful Umum (ATU) with 29 percent.

Saiful Yazan bin Ahmad, the company's president director, ascribed the growth in the insurance premium partly to the conducive macro-economic condition. "Internally, we also strategically revamped many things. For example, development of innovative products that cater to the market's needs, enhancing our services, improvement of distribution and creating alternative distribution system, upgrading our human resources. In short, we put our best effort into making our company effective and efficient," he added.

Given the country's large Muslim population, insurance observers compare the sharia insurance industry in Indonesia to a sleeping tiger, meaning it has great potential that remains untapped. Therefore, they suggest conventional insurance companies should also join the bandwagon and launch sharia insurance products.

Indeed, some conventional insurance firms have joined or considered joining the bandwagon. One such company is PT Asuransi Allianz Life. Since 2006, Allianz's customers can get life and non-life sharia insurance products served under one roof. The company also offers unit-linked life insurance products, while its subsidiary offers fire and motor vehicle insurance. "We are simply attempting to cater to our customers' needs in every country we are based. Our sharia products only reflect our company's determination to be the first choice in insurance," said Jens Reisch, president director of PT Asuransi Allianz Life Indonesia during the recent launch of the firm's sharia insurance product.

Chairman of the Indonesia Syariah Insurance Association Muhaimin Iqbal said that up to January 2008 there were three firms here that were purely sharia: Asuransi Takaful Keluarga, Asuransi Takaful Umum and Asuransi Mubarokah. There are 32 sharia branches of insurance companies and three sharia branches of reassurance companies. "The total premium figure (booked by the sharia insurance companies and branches) can exceed Rp 1 trillion this year. That will be more achievable with the entrance of a major insurance company in sharia business," he said.

This year's premiums revenue is expected to grow between 60 percent and 70 percent. In 2006, the industry recorded total premiums of Rp 475 billion, a 73 percent growth from the previous year. "The 2007 figure was Rp 700 billion. So, with only a 50 percent increase the total revenue can easily reach Rp 1 trillion," said Muhaimin.

While the growth is significant, the figure is still smaller compared to the performance of the industry in other countries where Muslim populations are not as big as in Indonesia, such as South Korea and Japan. Observers say that more customers will favor sharia insurance once they are fully aware of the benefits of the product. The development and successful penetration of sharia insurance products in the Indonesian market are predicted to follow similar steps or the success of Malaysia, where 20 percent of life insurance bought by the public is sharia based. In Indonesia, sharia insurance only accounts for 1.3 percent of insurance products bought by the public.

The good news is that a survey conducted by Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance in London say potential revenue from the sharia insurance business in Indonesia amounts to US$1.2 billion and the figure could be achieved by 2015. That figure will place Indonesia as the number two sharia insurance earner in the world after Malaysia, which is predicted to get US$1.22 billion in the same year.

However, all this is about the future potential. As the local proverb goes, if you are not familiar with something then it is difficult to like or love it, that is how one should describe the current situation of sharia insurance. It is all about lack of awareness of insurances in general and sharia insurance in particular. While insurance is still alien to many, the added word "sharia" makes it less understandable. Thus, total education on the matter is required.

For Muslims, theoretically at least, sharia insurance is their best choice as it is in accordance with their religious laws. For others it could also be an attractive option as long as they find it to be a fair product, as sharia is a universal principle based on fairness. (Burhanuddin Abe)

The Jakarta Post, July 20, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sophisticated technology for better life


The Association of Indonesia Automotive Industries (Gaikindo) is again staging the most prestigious motor show, the 16th Indonesia International Motor Show 2008 (IIMS 2008), at the Jakarta Convention Center (JCC), Senayan, Jakarta, from July 11 through July 20.

Present during the opening ceremony on Friday were Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu, Transportation Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal, Industry Minister Fahmi Idris and Environment Minister Rahmat Witoelar. Pangestu said that in future the motor show should also include motorcycles to boost the overall automotive industry. Fahmi, meanwhile, expressed optimism that IIMS would become a drawn for both local and foreign tourists.

This yearly event, which is supported by the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers, is a splendid opportunity for manufacturers to exhibit their superior products, especially ones that incorporate eco-technology for a better and cleaner environment to create a more comfortable life.

IIMS 2008 carries the theme "Advanced Motoring, Hi-Quality Living", which reflects the commitment of local manufacturers to develop innovative vehicles that are environmentally friendly. This also means a commitment to the technology used as well as the raw materials for the vehicles. All this is in line with the global agreement during the 13th COP/MOP United Nation Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Nusa Dua, Bali, late last year. "Overtime, the automotive industry has come to care greatly about the environment and its preservation, especially considering global warming and climate change that affect human life. Bearing this in mind, it is only natural for us within the automotive industry to care more and actively participate in environmental preservation and help reduce global warming and its effects," said Bambang Trisulo, the chairman of Gaikindo.

Johnny Darmawan, the event's organizing chairman and a Gaikindo deputy, noted that the domestic automotive industry was a vital engine in boosting the national economy. The industry has a long chain of manufacturing and sales as well as distribution process, manufacturing of components and vehicles, distribution and after sales service that include authorized and unauthorized service stations, sales of spare parts. The industry has also developed related business, like financing and insurance. "Clearly the entire chain creates jobs for a great number of people, which is a huge contribution to the public in general," he added.

So, again this year's IIMS is expected to boost enthusiasm among domestic players in producing and exhibiting their superior products. With various hurdles, such as the increase in fuel prices and interest rates as well as inflation, the industry has survived well and is in fact in high spirits. "In the first six months of this year, sales have reached 290,000 vehicles, which is higher than the set target, while the export figure is also good, more than 50,000 units. With the world recession and increasing fuel prices, we at Gaikindo are still optimistic that this year's target of 520,000 units will be achieved as well as 100,000 units for export," said Bambang Trisulo

Gaikindo data shows that the automotive industry is the country's forth largest taxpayer among industries. The rapid progress of the industry has attracted a number of foreign investors. Eager to capitalize on the industry's growth, manufacturers and component distributors from China, Malaysia and Singapore are also participating in the motor show.

IIMS 2008 is also participated in by 18 sole authorized agents (ATPM) and 121 non ATPM participants. Meanwhile, three players are absent, namely BMW, General Motors and Renault. The absence of these manufacturers has not disheartened other participants. PT Honda Prospect Motor (HPM) has a special theme for the event, "Life and Technology in Perfect Harmony".

Yukihiro Aoshima, the company's president director, said the theme aimed to raise awareness about future demands for products that are able to make life better and preserve the environment.

Honda is taking up the largest space in the Cenderawasih room, which is 2,152 square meters in area. The design here is experimental and innovative with a landscape of an environmentally friendly city.

This year's IIMS has been totally revamped, while at 60,000 square meters the area occupied is much larger than last year's, which was only 48,000 sq. m. Other new facilities are a food court, Internet access for the public and a shuttle bus service from JCC to Plaza Semanggi, Soekarno-Hatta Airport and Plaza Senayan.

The largest motor show will also be enjoyed by students from a number of selected schools and disabled people on dates set for Children's and Student's Day and visits for the disabled. Meanwhile, some activities have already started, such as the 4th Automotive Design and Styling Competition and the Writing Competition for Journalists. In line with the environmental theme, Gaikindo planted trees as part of the regreening program on the Jakarta-Cikampek toll road at kilometer 5.8 on June 30. For children, meanwhile, it held the Children's Coloring Competition from June 8 through 15.

With such activities, Johnny hopes IIMS 2008 will not be seen as merely an automotive show, but also as information and education medium on the industry, and most importantly evoke the spirit of environmental preservation in each of us. Johnny said the event's organizer expected transactions during the event to exceed last year's Rp 2 billion (about US$216 million). He added that with all the new programs and facilities, the number of visitors is expected to be higher than last year's. This year's visitor target is 220,000. (Burhanuddin Abe)

The Jakarta Post, July 15, 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Flocking to tap wireless broadband data market



APPLE launched its iPhone3G this month. Of course, this is good news for gadget lovers because not only has the price gone down to around US$200 (for one with memory storage of 8 Gb) but the 3G technology also makes this mobile phone, which has a touch screen, more functional. Besides its attractive design, its features cater more to entertainment. This gadget can be used not only for ordinary communication or for SMSing but it also has a mobile TV, music streaming, video call, video on demand and Internet access.

The sophistication of broadband mobile cellular technology offers a lot of facilities and benefits to users of the iPhone and other 3G mobile phones. While, for example, you are waiting around or relaxing or feeling bored, you can watch your favorite program on the mobile TV, play an online game or enjoy the latest video clip of your favorite singer. Using the 3G video call service, you can see for yourself how the person you have phoned is through your video mobile phone channel. The 3G technology also provides a solution with high-speed Internet connection. You can read urgent electronic mail or download a file.

Unfortunately, however, uses have yet to make maximum use of most of these services. One of the reasons is users' lack of knowledge about 3G technology. However, the main reason is that the 3G features, particularly video call, appears to have few fans here and so are considered unsuccessful in Indonesia, unlike in Japan and Korea.

Obviously, innovations continue to be introduced in the telecommunication world. Even though the 3G market is not particularly encouraging, operators have become interested in tapping wireless broadband data, commonly known as 3.5G. This service is very fast and is therefore also called high speed downlink packet access (HSDPA). The data access speed can reach 3.6 megabytes per second (Mbps).

The three largest cell operators in Indonesia, namely PT Telkomsel, PT Excelcomindo Pratama and PT Indosat, are now offering this service. They offer high-speed broadband Internet packages that refer to the size of the quota for download capacity to be used by a subscriber. The packages offered by these three operators are generally the same, namely the 500 MB package, the 1GB package, the 2GB package, etc.

What distinguishes one operator from another are the rates. Indosat Matrix, for example, charges Rp 200,000 for the 1GB package while Telkomsel charges Rp 350,000 for the same package, and XL charges Rp 270,000. Generally, these operators use movable/wireless an HSDPA USB or PCMCIA modem. A wireless modem costs between Rp 1 million and Rp 2.7 million.

Indosat is marketing its wireless broadband through its subsidiary, PT Indosat Mega Media (IM2). Since its launch in November last year, this service has attracted close to 7,000 subscribers. The same achievement has also been made by PT Excelcomindo Pratama (XL), which claims to have some 6,000 subscribers.

Although it is relatively new, Ventura Elisawati, XL's general manager of integrated marketing services corporate solutions, said that the prospect of the wireless broadband industry is quite promising. The popularity of wireless broadband services is not confined to Indonesia but is also apparent in advanced countries such as the U.S. and Germany. One of the yardsticks is the success of Vodafone in selling its wireless broadband products in its country of origin, the U.S.

For several years, a number of world-class cellular operators in the U.S. have estimated that the wireless broadband service will be the backbone of their earnings. The reason is the great demand for high-speed and mobile data access. It is the same in Indonesia. Another reason for the high demand for this wireless broadband service is the fact that the video call service offered by 3G does not enjoy popularity. There is a high demand for wireless broadband service because people have an increasing need to use the Internet for various purposes, including for business.

The 3.5G, which is also called super 3G, is an improvement on 3G technology, particularly in terms of data transfer speed, which is higher than that of 3G technology (more than 2 Mbps) so that it can serve multimedia communication such as Internet access and video sharing.

With a bandwidth of up to 3.6 megabytes per second (Mbps), the presence of HSDPA on the 3.5G technological path has left behind its predecessors, namely from GPRS to 3G. GPRS can carry data at a speed of up to 50 kilobytes per second (kbps). Its successor, EDGE, which is also known as 2.75G, can reach a speed of only 150 kilobytes per second (kbps). As for WCDMA or 3G, the speed is only 384 kilobytes per second (kbps). Mobile Internet access based on 3.5G technology offers various benefits for businesspeople and individuals. Its main advantage is its super high speed, which can reach 3.6 Mbps, using High Speed Downlink Package Access (HSDPA) technology. This shows that 3.5G technology is superior to the technologies of the previous generations.

Indeed, originally people were very taken with the video call offered by 3G. However, things have changed and consumers now prefer to use data access rather than video call. Onno W. Purbo, a telematics observer, agrees that in future it is high-speed data access that will be the killer application of the mobile phone service of the 3.5 generation.

Indeed, things will not stop here with this technology. XL, for example, has introduced various gimmicks to market its products. On July 8, this operator teamed up with Oke Shop, a distributor of several brands of mobile phones, in providing BlackBerry and Internet 3G-HSDPA services. "This cooperation is expected to help XL expand its market in the retail sector," said Titus Dondi, XL's head of enterprise and carrier.

The BlackBerry market is indeed still quite small. However, he is optimistic that this market will develop exponentially. Besides Oke Shop outlets, BlackBerry and Internet 3G-HSDPA services can be obtained at 15 XL centers across Indonesia (in Jakarta, Bogor, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Medan) and in seven XL Gadgets Store Partner (C-Palm Plaza Senayan, C-Palm Ratu Plaza, C-Palm Grand Indonesia, C-Palm Pondok Indah, C-Palm Plaza Indonesia, Inmarc and Delcell).

In connection with 3.5G technology, earlier PT Indosat Tbk also launched a new feature, namely its Multimedia Messaging service based on this technology and called "Meet Me". This feature allows facilities for Indosat subscribers to communicate or chat via video through a 3.5G mobile phone at any time, as long as they are located within the range of Indosat 3.5G. "Giving various pleasing features is part of our effort to always give added value to the service we provide to Indosat subscribers, particularly 3G/3.5G subscribers," said Teguh Prasetya, PT Indosat head of brand marketing.

Well, all operators are competing to be the forerunner in 3.5G technology. Obviously, this latest high-speed cellular technology innovation will make life much easier. (Burhanuddin Abe)

The Jakarta Post, July 10, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Politisi dan Blog


SENATOR Barack Obama, kandidat presiden Amerika Serikat dari Partai Demokrat, tahu betul memanfaatkan kekuatan situs atau blog pribadi untuk meraih simpati sekaligus kemenangan. Pada konvensi partai, Obama menyingkirkan saingan terkuatnya, Hillary Rodham Clinton, dengan orasi kampanyenya yang mengena.

Di luar kemampuannya memikat calon pemilih yang amat rasional di dunia nyata, Obama juga unggul di dunia maya. Ia pandai memanfaatkan kekuatan media online. Terlepas bahwa orang lain yang menggarap perwajahan dan isi situs pribadinya, Obama tidak harus malu menyatakan diri sebagai blogger yang mengelola dan memelihara situs pribadinya secara rutin.

Tengok situs http://www.barackobama.com/ atau http://www.my.barack-obama.com/ yang selalu di-update. Kedua situs itu tidak semata-mata meminta dana dari para simpatisannya, tetapi juga menawarkan berbagai produk ”Barack Obama”. Tidak kurang dari 400 produk ditawarkan, mulai dari kaus T-shirt, topi, pin, kancing, payung, jaket, cangkir, sampai stiker. Lebih progresif, Obama memiliki armada pengiriman barang agar lekas sampai kepada pemesan.

Selain mengundang para blogger membuat testimoni, Obama juga menarik pemilih Hispanik dengan membuat situs versi bahasa Spanyol. Ini yang paling mencengangkan: Obama memiliki kanal untuk menyambut pemilih Hillary Clinton! Di kanal bertajuk ”Welcome Hillary Supporters” yang dilengkapi foto Hillary itu, Obama menyilakan pendukung Hillary segera beralih mendukungnya. Alasannya sederhana, setelah Hillary kalah dalam konvensi, para pendukung Hillary pun merupakan orang-orang Demokrat yang amat diperlukan saat pemilihan presiden melawan kandidat Partai Republik, John McCain.

Jelaslah, Obama tidak menganggap Hillary dan para pendukungnya sebagai ”pengkhianat” yang harus dijauhi hanya karena tidak memilihnya. Lewat situs pribadinya, Obama mengajak mereka memperkuat dan memenangkan Demokrat dalam pemilihan presiden dengan cara memilihnya.

Dari situs pribadinya pula, para netter simpatisan Obama bisa mengetahui di mana Obama berada di dunia maya. Jejak Obama yang memanfaatkan ”ruang maya” tersebut bisa ditemui di sejumlah situs jejaring sosial, seperti Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Twitter, Linkedin, Eventful, BlackPlanet, Faithbase, Eons, Glee, MiGente, MyBatanga, DNC Partybuilder, dan AsianAve.

Pada 6 Juni 2008, pendukung Obama di Facebook baru 864.832 netter. Belum sampai dua minggu, pendukungnya sudah satu juta! Jumlah ini jauh di atas Hillary yang meraih 158.234 pendukung dan McCain yang meraih 146.439. Demikian pula di Twitter, pada 17 Juni pendukung Obama 998.901, yang apabila dihitung-hitung ada 135 pendukung baru setiap 20 menitnya.

Tak sekadar narsis
Blog sering dilecehkan sebagai media orang narsis, yakni orang- orang yang kelebihan hasrat menonjol-nonjolkan dirinya sendiri, orang yang senang memuji-muji kehebatannya sendiri. Karena narsisme ingin selalu dilihat dan bahkan dipuji orang, blogger terkena getah harus menanggung konotasi negatif.

Akan tetapi, kenyataannya, jumlah blogger terus membengkak. Technorati, situs penyurvei blog, menyebutkan, akhir Desember 2007 terdapat 112 juta blogger ”menyesaki” jagat maya internet ini. Seiring dengan berkembangnya jenis-jenis blog yang mengarah ke video blog (vlog), jumlahnya hingga sekarang boleh jadi sudah sampai 200 juta. Jika benar ada 1 miliar orang di dunia tersambung ke internet, artinya seperlima pengguna internet di jagat ini adalah blogger!

Penyedia blog gratisan, seperti Wordpress, saat tulisan ini diturunkan sudah mencatat 3.458.488 pengguna. Dari jumlah itu, ada 143.266 posting atau konten yang diunggah (upload) setiap harinya. Padahal selain Wordpress, ada juga puluhan situs penyedia web gratis. Sebut saja Blogspot, Blogsome, Blogdrive, Movable Type, LiveJournal, dan Dagdigdug. Situs terakhir adalah penyedia blog milik orang Indonesia.

Perang blog pernah terjadi saat pemilihan presiden Perancis beberapa waktu lalu antara Nicolas Sarkozy melawan saingan terkuatnya, Segolene Royal. Mulanya Royal, politisi perempuan, yang membuat blog. Tidak lama, Sarkozy membuat blog pribadi dan ”memelototi” blog-nya setiap ada kesempatan karena tak mau kalah dari Royal.

Dekati konstituen
Blog dan situs jejaring sosial seperti Facebook sebenarnya bisa mendongkrak popularitas politisi lokal menjadi politisi global. Contoh Perdana Menteri China Wen Jiabao. Di dunia nyata, namanya tidak dikenal. Orang mungkin lebih tahu Jet Lie atau Jackie Chan. Meski Wen Jiabao orang ”jadul”, tetapi ia tidak terlalu malu untuk menjadi salah seorang digital migrant dengan memajang dirinya di Facebook.

Berkat usahanya mengkapling ”ruangan” di Facebook, plus berkat kepedulian dan kehadiran Wen Jiabao mengunjungi korban gempa bumi Sichuan, popularitasnya sebagai politisi meningkat dengan menduduki 10 besar politisi dunia. Meski tidak sefantastis Obama di urutan pertama yang menggaet lebih dari 1 juta pendukung, Wen didukung 20.136 netter.

Di negeri sendiri, blog artis sinetron Sandra Dewi yang baru diluncurkan beberapa waktu lalu sudah menggaet lebih dari 8.000 anggota dengan ribuan pengunjung. Sayangnya, blog tidak dimanfaatkan para politisi Indonesia, khususnya anggota DPR. Padahal, jika anggota DPR nge-blog, ia akan lebih dekat dengan konstituen, toh internet sudah sampai ke desa-desa. Belum pernah terdengar anggota DPR nge-blog seperti Menteri Pertahanan Juwono Sudarsono. Sejumlah anggota DPR justru ramai dibicarakan di blog karena kena co- kok KPK. Beberapa anggota lainnya malah menjadi ”bintang” blog karena ketahuan berbuat mesum.

Akan tetapi, percayalah, masih banyak politisi dan anggota DPR yang baik dan berakhlak mulia, yang mungkin siap-siap nge-blog agar bisa berdekat-dekat dengan konstituen. Bukankah Pemilu 2009 sudah semakin mendekat? (Pepih Nugraha - Kompas, 3 Juli 2008)