JAKARTA — – President Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesia's only democratically elected president, handed the daily running of government to his deputy Wednesday, yielding to mounting criticism of his stormy 10-month rule.
It is unclear exactly how much leeway he will give to Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the person he handed the job to, but the move follows savage attacks by the top legislature over his brief reign.
The People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), which enthusiastically elected the near-blind cleric to the powerful post last October, has more recently been muttering about impeaching him.
Though in the end it never went that far, at its meeting this week several MPR factions made clear their deep disappointment that he had done so little to pull Indonesia out of prolonged political and economic chaos.
It was the unpredictable and frail Muslim cleric's wily political skills that put him in the presidency last year, and he was perceived as the man who would lead Indonesia out of years of economic misery and social unrest.
But in power, his renowned political cunning and affable ways were not enough and he and his government have increasingly become the target of charges of incompetence or worse.
Nearly blind and forced by two strokes to rely on helpers to walk, Wahid was never really much of a presidential prospect despite the widespread respect he had earned as leader of the largest Muslim group in the world's largest Muslim community.
Snatched Victory From Megawati
Just a day before last October's presidential election, it was generally assumed that populist leader Megawati would be Indonesia's fourth president.
But the political guile which helped him through the long autocratic rule of then President Suharto gave Wahid the edge to snatch victory in the MPR from Megawati.
His Nation Awakening Party (PKB) was only fourth a few months earlier in parliamentary elections but he managed to get a mainly Muslim-backed central axis to maneuver him into the top job.
Once elected, he immediately established a coalition government of all the main parties and created a cabinet that was to become better known for its differences and incompetence than its cohesion and skills.
It is that false start, analysts say, which has landed Wahid in hot water and prevented him from dealing with a slew of deeply troubling problems he inherited from past misrule and one or two he created himself.
He has irritated many of those in power, not least the newly empowered parliament which is demanding that he treat what was once a rubber-stamp for despots with more respect.
He recently had to give what almost amounted to an apology to parliament, which he once likened to a playschool, for brusquely refusing to tell it why he had earlier sacked two ministers.
Preference for Formality
What was once endearing outspokenness in a rigidly controlled society is now, since Wahid became president, seen more like clumsiness and insensitivity by some. They would prefer something closer to the formality of the head of state they were used to.
Earlier this year Wahid caused outrage by suggesting that a ban on communism, imposed in the 1960s, be lifted. His comments on what is a deeply emotional topic triggered several protests.
Communists were blamed for an abortive but brutal coup attempt in 1965, and up to 500,000 people are thought to have been killed in a subsequent backlash against the ideology.
During the harsh Suharto years, Wahid won widespread respect for publicly standing up to the autocrat despite his own ill health.
And for many Indonesians and the outside world, he is a voice of moderation in the turbulent country and the tolerant face of Islam, the dominant religion of Indonesia.
It is a characteristic which many still see as vital in helping keep the hugely diverse archipelago of more than 200 million people united.
But it is his management skills which, under the glare of public scrutiny since he became president, are seen as most wanting, and where he has been pressured most to mend his ways.