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In a surprising reversal, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid suspended Gen. Wiranto, the former head of the armed forces, who was serving as coordinating minister for politics and security affairs. Despite fears that the decision might incite the military to turn against his government, heads of the armed forces have rallied behind the president. The move is a victory for human rights, democracy and the Indonesian president, who has proved to be a match for the much-feared military.

Gen. Wiranto’s suspension came only hours after an announcement that the general would stay in his post while Indonesia’s attorney general investigated charges of human-rights abuses. Since the general’s Cabinet responsibilities made him the attorney general’s boss, suspension was only proper. A neutral, objective investigation is absolutely necessary if its conclusions are to be respected.

Mr. Wahid prepared his move well. He issued statements while overseas making clear his desire to see the general resign. Those comments, always moderate in character and offering the general a way to save face, shaped public opinion in Indonesia and abroad. The steady drumbeat raised international expectations. The general’s refusal to resign made him appear to be the obstacle to reform. The promise of an amnesty if found guilty also helped Mr. Wahid keep the upper hand.

The only question mark was the reaction of the armed forces. There was concern that any attempt to blame Gen. Wiranto and the military for the violence would trigger a backlash and even a coup. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

While the military was complicit in the violence in East Timor, and some leaders hope to maintain its powerful role in Indonesia, many in the armed forces would like to see the institution get out of politics. They understand that playing politics only discredits the armed forces. They are right. They are also right to rally behind the president; Mr. Wahid is Indonesia’s best hope for the future. His careful campaign against Gen. Wiranto is proof of that.

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