President Abdurrahman Wahid plunged this country into new political turmoil Friday by dismissing his security chief and attorney general and attempting to fire the national police chief.
Fighting to keep his job, Wahid sacked top security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had defied the president by opposing his plan to declare martial law and dissolve parliament. Yudhoyono, a retired general, had in effect functioned as Wahid's prime minister, holding the government together during months of political crisis.
Wahid also requested the resignation of Gen. Suroyo Bimantoro, the national police chief, who had joined Yudhoyono in opposing the declaration of a state of emergency. But the general refused to quit, saying it was up to parliament to remove him.
Wahid's moves came at the end of a tumultuous week in which parliament voted overwhelmingly to consider his ouster by convening in August the highest body in the land, the People's Consultative Assembly.
The president's foes in parliament initially sought to unseat him on charges that he was involved in two corruption scandals, but now many members also favor his removal because of his inability to address Indonesia's pressing economic and social problems.
The firings could be an attempt by Wahid to dump officials he perceives to be disloyal as he tries to strike a deal with Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri that would allow him to remain at least as a figurehead president.
However, the unpredictable Wahid talked tough Friday, saying that he had no intention of resigning and even hinting that he was still considering the issuance of a martial law decree.
"I will not step down, and if the unity of the nation is in danger I will take strong action against it," the president said. "A decree is nothing unusual. If the nation is in a state of emergency, I can issue a decree--for example, if the nation is on the brink of disintegration."
In all, Wahid fired four Cabinet ministers, including Atty. Gen. Marzuki Darusman, who on Monday had cleared Wahid of the corruption charges that have figured prominently in the effort to unseat him. Wahid gave no explanation for the dismissal, and Darusman could not be reached for comment.
Sarwono Kusumaatmajda, the fisheries minister, said he did not know the reason for his own firing.
"I don't know, and I don't want to know," he said. "I've been taking care of the fish and the sea for too long. I don't understand politics any longer."
Also fired was Cacuk Sudarijanto, minister for economic restructuring.
Yudhoyono had earned widespread respect for his running of the government while Wahid and members of parliament fought for power behind the scenes.
On Monday, Wahid added to Yudhoyono's duties by issuing a decree assigning him responsibility for maintaining order in the country.
However, Yudhoyono said hours later that the decree was simply a face-saving order that Wahid issued after the security chief and top police and military officials refused to go along with the president's plan to declare martial law and dissolve parliament.
After his firing was announced, Yudhoyono told reporters that he was loyal to the president and fully accepted the decision.
"I don't know what is in the mind of Mr. President, but as far as I know there is no indication that he will impose the martial law status," he said.
Wahid said he would replace Yudhoyono with another retired army general, Transportation Minister Agum Gumelar, a close Megawati ally. Gumelar was sworn in today. As Wahid's top minister, he could provide a close link between the president and Megawati, who call themselves friends but are often rivals.
Megawati, who would become president if Wahid is forced out, might find it in her interest to strike a deal under which she takes control of the government but Wahid remains the titular head of state--and the lightning rod for criticism when things go wrong.
"I want someone who can build a good relations with Megawati to keep us from falling apart," the president said. "Agum is the right person for that. His relations with me are good, also with Mega."
Wahid announced that he would put Bimantoro, the police chief, on nonactive status. But in a sign of the president's political weakness, the defiant chief said he would not give up his post until parliament approved the change--an event unlikely to take place in the current climate.
"I think the president made a very bad decision in this situation," said Eep Saefulloh Fatah, lecturer in political science at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, the capital. "Maybe he thought he was helping himself to stay in power, but I don't think so."