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THE city of Tomohon does not figure very prominently in Indonesia’s national affairs. Situated in a mountainous area of North Sulawesi, about a 25-minute drive from provincial capital Manado, Tomohon is better known for its cool climate than heated politics. Yet the three active volcanoes surrounding the city hint at a geological significance that has recently come to be reflected in national affairs as well.

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“WE SHALL not ignore democratic values. There shouldn’t be a monarchical system.” To foreigners unfamiliar with Indonesia, this statement last December by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono seems innocuous enough. In Indonesia, however, it has touched off a storm of criticism.

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THE planned train ticket price hike has been delayed,” Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa announced on Jan 9 following strong public protests. But while Jakarta’s commuters welcomed the move, the decision has done nothing to improve train services. Instead, the way the fare increase was announced and then rescinded the day after it came into effect has merely underlined a wider malaise besetting the country’s railway system.

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ONE of the many ironies in Indonesia is the way some of the most economically developed regions in the country also have some of the most difficult bureaucratic environments. Nothing illustrates this better than the province of North Sumatra.

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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