East Timorís constitution
took effect when the territory officially became independent
in May 2002. It provides for a democratic republic with a
president as head of state and a prime minister as head of
government. All citizens aged 18 and older have the right
The president of East Timor is directly
elected to serve a five-year term and may serve no more than
two consecutive terms. Under the constitution, the president
is the symbol of East Timorese independence and the guarantor
of the smooth functioning of the republicís democratic institutions.
The president is the supreme commander of the defense forces.
Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão (born June
20, 1946), born José Alexandre Gusmão, is the
inaugural President of the small nation of East Timor in Southeast
Gusmão was born to school-teacher parents
in Manaututo in what was then Portuguese Timor, and
attended a Jesuit high school just outside of Dili.
After leaving high-school at the age of sixteen (for
financial reasons), he worked a variety of unskilled
jobs, although he continued his education at evening
college. In 1965, at the age of 19, he met Emilia Batista,
who was later to become his wife.
In 1966 Gusmão obtained a
position with the public service, which allowed him
to continue his education. This was interrupted in 1968
when Gusmão was recruited in the Portuguese army
for national service.
He served for three years, rising
to the rank of corporal. During this time he married
Emilia Batista, by whom he had two children, his son
Eugenio, and daughter Zenilda.
1971 was a turning point for Gusmão.
He completed his national service, his son was born, and he
became involved with a nationalist organisation headed by
José Ramos Horta. For the next three years he was actively
involved in peaceful protests at the colonial system.
It was in 1974 that a left-wing coup in
Portugal resulted in the beginning of decolonisation for Portuguese
Timor, and shortly afterwards the Governor Mário Lemos
Pires announced plans to grant the colony independence. Plans
were drawn up to hold general elections with a view to independence
During most of 1975 a bitter internal
struggle occurred between two rival factions in Portuguese
Timor. Gusmão became deeply involved with the Fretilin
faction, and as a result he was arrested and imprisoned by
the rival faction the Timorese
Democratic Union (UDT) in mid-1975.
Taking advantage of the internal disorder,
and with an eye to absorbing the colony, Indonesia immediately
began a campaign of destabilisation, and frequent raids into
Portuguese Timor were staged from Indonesian Timor.
By late 1975 the Fretilin faction had
gained control of Portuguese Timor and Gusmão was released.
He was given the position of Press Secretary within the Fretilin
organisation. On November 28, 1975, Fretilin declared the
independence of Portuguese Timor as "The Democratic Republic
of East Timor", and Gusmão was responsible for
filming the ceremony.
Nine days later Indonesia invaded East
Timor. At the time Gusmão was visiting friends outside
of Dili and he witnessed the invasion from the hills. For
the next few days he searched for his family.
During the early 1990s Gusmão became
heavily involved in diplomacy and media management, and was
instrumental in alerting the world to the massacre that occurred
in Santa Cruz on November 12, 1991. Gusmão was interviewed
by many major media channels and obtained worldwide attention.
As a result of his high profile, Gusmão
became a prime target of the Indonesian government. A campaign
for his capture was finally successful in November 1992. In
May, 1993, Gusmão was tried, convicted and sentenced
to life imprisonment by the Indonesian Government. He was
denied the right to a defence. Although not released until
late 1999, Gusmão successfully led the resistance from
within prison. During this time he was regularly visited by
United Nations representatives, and dignitaries such as Nelson
On August 30, 1999, a referendum was held
in East Timor and an overwhelming majority voted for independence.
The Indonesian military commenced a campaign of terror as
a result, with terrible consequences. Although the Indonesian
government denied ordering this offensive, they were widely
condemned for failing to prevent it. As a result of overwhelming
diplomatic pressure from the United Nations, and particularly
the United States and Australia, an Australian-led UN-peackeeping
force entered East Timor, and Gusmão was finally released.
Upon his return to Dili, he began a campaign of reconciliation
Gusmão was appointed to a senior
role in the UN administration that governed East Timor until
2002. During this time he continually campaigned for unity
and peace within East Timor, and was generally regarded as
the de facto leader of the emerging nation. Elections were
held in late 2001 and Gusmão was comfortably elected
leader. As a result he became the first President of East
Timor when it became formally independent on May 20, 2002.
Gusmão has published an autobiography
with selected writings entitled To
Resist is to Win.