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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


When Power Slips Away

By Tim Healy

Who's In

Who's Out

Where does power reside?

Shifting Sands

SUHARTO IS USED TO WORKING THROUGH the cold calculus of power. As a second-rank general in 1965 spared by coup conspirators even as some colleagues were executed, he led a military counter-strike to stop a communist putsch. From there, he moved with deliberate speed to accumulate and mobilize his support until, 18 months later, it became obvious to everyone - including an embattled Sukarno - that Suharto was unassailable. The sums were on his side, and he has ruled Indonesia ever since.

What does the math say now? In the historic upheaval of recent days, Suharto and all who relied on him lost much. The remaining mysteries - how long will the old man stay and who will take his place? - add nothing to his own depleted resources. The fact that a credible substitute has not yet emerged allows Suharto (No. 3 in last year's Power 50 list) to retain little more than the trappings of power; not a place among the region's most influential. And it does nothing to help his family and cronies. That is why Siti Hardyanti Rukmana (Tutut, No. 31 last year), who seemed ascendant earlier this year when she was appointed to a cabinet post, today is unlikely to politically survive her father's departure.

Two cronies who built fortunes on the strength of Suharto connections, Liem Sioe Liong (No. 8 in 1997) and Mohamad "Bob" Hasan (No. 29), are also feeling the loss of their patron's influence. Liem, patriarch of the giant Salim group, has developed his own clout based on magnificent wealth, but he has also been hit hard by the Asian economic crisis, expected reforms and, it is rumored, poor health. Adding to Hasan's woes: accusations that a timber subsidiary of his Astra International was partly responsible for fires that have plagued the region with haze.

One theme that binds the Indonesians and many of the other most powerful figures who fell from last year's Top 50 list is the region's economic slump. Consider: Lucio Tan (No. 35), the Philippine tycoon who controls Philippine Airlines, is mired in dollar-denominated airplane debts made heavier by a devalued peso and more difficult to service by a public reluctant to jet away on vacation. Former Thai prime minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh (No. 24) was forced out of office late last year by public outrage at his administration's inability to see the crisis coming or to effectively deal with it once it arrived. And Sakakibara Eisuke, Japan's "Mr. Yen," (No. 14) dropped out because of an uninspired currency strategy that might more aptly earn him the moniker "Mr. Yawn" - under his watch the yen fell last week below 135 to the dollar.

American political consultant David Garth once said: "The perception of power is power." When considering the 20 men and one woman who dropped off last year's list of Asia's most powerful people, a corollary seems appropriate: perceived weakness is real weakness. Suharto, Asia's single-most powerful individual as judged by Asiaweek just two years ago, can today no longer make the heavens quaver and men go silent with only an inscrutable smile. Indonesians know it, and thus is it true.


Significant as it has been, the region's economic crisis is behind the decline in power of only about one-third of the 21 people who dropped off this year's list from 1997. Others, like Fidel Ramos, Kim Young Sam and Qiao Shi, simply saw their political terms come to an end. Abdurrahman Wahid and Zhang Wannian were laid low by illness. Ikeda Daisaku, Wang Yung-ching and Ratan Tata had relatively quiet years in which they lost power relative to others, but they may find their way back.

*New to the list this year

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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