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ARE you a millionaire yet? If not, you might like to take a trip to Indonesia. At an exchange rate of one Singapore dollar to around 7,860 Indonesia rupiah earlier this month, for example, it was possible to become an instant millionaire by visiting a money changer and exchanging less than S$130 (US$106).

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THE Indonesian education system is not normally associated with academic prowess. Instead, the country is probably better known for its ramshackle schools, unqualified teachers, and deeply flawed national examination system. And yet, secondary school students plucked from educational institutions across the country regularly win gold medals at international physics, mathematics and science competitions.

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“INDONESIA has the world’s greatest geothermal energy potential,” World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conservation director Nazir Foead told me when I met him in Jakarta earlier this month. “Yet it uses only about 4 per cent of it”.

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INDONESIA, currently one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, has seen its currency weaken significantly this year. And most analysts expect the rupiah to fall even further in the coming months. Why should this be so?

Key Political Risks

The inability of the government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to bridge the deep divisions between her populist government and its royalist opponents in the military and bureaucracy remains a major concern.

Prime Minister Yingluck has selected a competent economic team, but it is difficult for these technocrats to deliver on the new government's campaign promises without triggering inflation or hurting business. 

The government has also been unable to resolve the ongoing insurgency involving ethnic Malay Muslim rebels in the south.



  1. Attempts by the government to amend the constitution. The proposed rewrite is aimed removing legal measures initiated by the royalist generals who overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the current prime minister's elder brother, in 2006.
  2. Ballooning government debt as officials seek to finance government programmes aimed at subsidising rice prices in order to retain the support of farmers.
  3. The relationship between Prime Minister Yingluck and senior generals. Coups have been a common means of regime change in Thai history, and any attempt by the government to purge royalist elements in the top brass could trigger yet another. Thailand

About Me

My name is Dr Bruce Gale and I am a senior writer with the Singapore Straits Times. I studied at  LaTrobe University (BA Hons) in Melbourne and later at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Monash University (MA). My PhD thesis, which focussed on Malaysian political economy, was completed at the Malaysian National University (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in 1987.

From 1988 to 2003 I was Singapore Regional Manager for the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). 

I have written several books and articles on Southeast Asian affairs, including Political Risk and International Business: Case Studies in Southeast Asia (Pelanduk Publications, 2007). Books on language include Mastering Indonesian: a guide to reading Indonesian language newspapers (Pelanduk Publications, 2008)

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