Suharto has governed Indonesia for more than three decades. He is expected to be re-elected to a seventh consecutive five-year term by a 1,000-member assembly in March. Despite his age, he has not nominated a successor.
Last week the rupiah, already battered by Asia's financial crisis, dropped 22 per cent to a record low, and the stock market plunged as nervous dealers and brokers swapped rumours that Suharto was seriously ill, that he had suffered a mild stroke or even that he had died. Repeated denials by government ministers did little to quell the speculation. On Friday, he cancelled a trip to Malaysia for a meeting of leaders from the nine- member Association of South-East Asian Nations, further fuelling the rumours. Earlier, the government had said he would attend.