Jakarta – Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said today that the whole debate around President Suharto's health, which has been given ample coverage in the foreign press, is the result of a conspiracy engineered by speculators.
Speaking to journalists gathered at Bina Graha after meeting with Suharto, Alatas declared that the president had a statement to make about his upcoming 77th birthday, but had nothing to say about his current health.
Alatas added that it is crucial for Indonesian diplomats to make it known abroad that Suharto's health is fine, especially since questions on the president's health usually come from foreign reporters.
On Thursday, Suharto began his day with a 9 AM meeting with participants in a course organised by the Ministry of Defence. This was followed by a series of audiences with the Governor for West Kalimantan, Aspar Aswin, the minister for Trade and Industry Tunky Ariwibowo, and finally with Ali Alights. At approximately 12 noon Suharto left the Bina Graha and returned to his private residence in Menteng.
"I was asked by foreign reporters how come there was no cabinet session yesterday. I answered that it was only common sense, since most ministers were still out of town busy submitting their projects for the 1997/98 budget. This is an obvious attempt by the foreign press to fuel speculation. I think that our own press here in Indonesia must avoid to jump on this speculative bandwagon."
Meanwhile rumours about the health of President Suharto had nasty effects on the floor of Jakarta's Stock Exchange. The share index dropped 9,256 points to close at 641, 621 points as a consequence of the fall in the value of 106 different shares whereas only 22 shares increased their value over that same period.
Since the beginning of the week, the composite index has dropped 20,617 points, equivalent to 3,11 percent. Brokers believe that investors are going to be extra cautious in days to come and wait for signs that all is well with the president's health.
"The total volume of transactions today passed the mark of 300 billion rupiahs, somewhat less than usual. An ordinary trading day at the Jakarta Stock Exchange oscillates between 400 and 500 billion rupiahs," said the director of Sekuritas.
On the foreign exchange, however, there was no surge in demand for US dollars arising from the recent rumours about the President. PT Ayumas Gunung Agung, a money changing company, complained that the demand for US dollars was rather sluggish, with most transactions being undertaken by those families preparing for a pilgrimage to Mecca.
"The most we've changed today did not amount to more than 5,000 dollars." The rate of the US dollar against the Indonesian rupiah at money changers remained unchanged, trading at 2,376 rupiahs (purchase) and 2,418 rupiahs (sale) respectively. Bank Indonesia's rate was trading at a slightly different rate of 2,395 rupiahs (purchase) and 2,443 rupiahs (sale).
Singapore's dollar strengthened against the Indonesian currency by 7 rupiahs/dollar. Bank Indonesia current rate is 1.667 rupiahs (purchase) and 1.710 rupiahs (sale).
On the Singapore Stock Exchange, the Indonesian rupiah was not significantly weakened against the US dollar, trading at 2.404 rupiahs - down from 2.398 rupiahs. The rupiah has weakened by 14 rupiahs against the US dollar since it was announced in July 1996 that President Suharto required medical assistance in Germany.