The Vulnerability of Absolute Power

When the people of a nation are forced to endure the diktats of absolute power, the consequences can be devastating. This was certainly the case in Indonesia, and was laid bare for the world to see during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, a troubling time that is perfectly recreated in the, “The Noah Principle.”

The Noah Principle is a captivating literary thriller that skillfully blends a harrowing period of history with an intense tale of corruption, murder, intrigue, and ethnic conflict in South-East Asia. Set against the backdrop of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, the story follows the lives of two driven expats, Cain and Charlie, who work for the Temple-Speer Financial Advisory in Jakarta. As the economic meltdown spreads across the region, Cain and Charlie unwittingly find themselves caught up in a dangerous game of cunning and deception between their bosses, leading to a rift in their friendship. The chaos and violence erupting throughout Jakarta, however, tests that friendship to the very limit. Can they somehow manage to free themselves from the multiple sources of chaos that threaten them on many different levels?

The Asian Financial Crisis, around which time the novel is set, was ignited by a sharp devaluation of the Thai baht, and that instability quickly spread across the entire region. Indonesia was hit particularly hard, with its currency losing over 80% of its value and the economy shrinking by almost fourteen percent, paving the way for extreme consequences, with millions losing their homes, jobs, and savings, resulting in significant human losses. According to the research and statistics:

  • The Indonesian economy contracted by 13.1% in 1998, following a decrease of 4.7% in 1997.
  • The unemployment rate increased from 4.7% in 1997 to 18.9% in 1998.
  • There were an estimated 40 million people living below the poverty line in 1999, up from the 1996 rate of 11.3%.

For Indonesia, a major trigger for the series of wider crises caused by the extreme economic shock, was the well-established cronyism and corruption that was a trademark of President Suharto’s administration. During his more than 30 years in power, Suharto amassed a sizable network of devoted supporters who benefited from the policies of his regime. The preferential treatment which included government contracts, loans, and other privileges, was extended to his family, close associates, and business partners

The cronies who benefited from this patronage system lived in an environment of extreme inequality and injustice. In order to support ineffective state-owned businesses and fund expensive infrastructure projects, the Indonesian economy became heavily dependent on foreign investment. This resulted in a significant increase in debt, which ultimately became unsustainable when the global economy began to falter.

The government was simply not familiar with an economy that was faltering and struggled to deal with the scope of the crisis when it first began to bite. Many of the country’s biggest companies were on the verge of bankruptcy, and the banking system was rife with bad loans. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) placed stringent requirements on its loan assistance, including a painful program of economic reforms such as the elimination of subsidies, the closure of numerous state-owned businesses, and the liberalization of the economy.

The impact on ordinary working class Indonesians was catastrophic. Due to company failures and the exodus of foreign investors, millions of people lost their jobs. The number of people living below the poverty line skyrocketed to an estimated 40 million. People were finding it impossible to make ends meet, and ethnic tensions increased, tearing into the nation’s social fabric and threatening the complete breakdown its law, order, economy and governance.

The political climate in Indonesia was significantly impacted by the crisis. The nation’s economy was heavily dependent on loans and investments from abroad, so when these sources of funding dried up, the government could not cover its expenses or promote growth. As a result, public opinion shifted against the ruling party, and demonstrations broke out nationwide. The crisis further damaged public confidence by exposing systemic corruption and cronyism within the government. All the problems combined, paving the way for the overthrow of President Suharto’s autocratic government and a change to a more democratic form of governance.  

However, transitions to democracy are rarely smooth, and corruption and ongoing political instability remain significant problems in Indonesia today. These issues must be kept in the limelight with ongoing debate and attention if Indonesia is ever to fully effect real and lasting change its people deserve. Read “The Noah Principleto learn more.

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