About Government Information & Services Gateway
    Local History
    The Capital
    The Government
        The President
        The Prime Minister
        Cabinet
        Politics
        MP's
    Timorese Culture
    Travel Guide


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 to vote.

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.

Xanana Gusmao: The President

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 Asia.

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.

 

He relates that his people told him to 'never give up' and he found himself in having to rebuild the shattered resistance

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 in 1978.

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 Mandela.

The man who had led the East Timorese through fratricide, occupation and the independence ballot, had finally agreed to run as the new nation's first head of state

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 and rebuilding.

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.

Flag of Government of The Republic of Democratic Timor-Leste

Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

 
Timor-Leste Xanana Gusmao About Timor-Leste.gov.tl Site Map Help on Timor-Leste.gov.tl Contact us Portuguese Version Tetun Version