2. e. The New Nation: Democratic Republic of Timor Leste[1]


This section examines the current structure of the government, the parliamentary system and the various Ministries. This section is based on information that is presented on the official web site of the Government of East Timor (http://www.gov.east-timor.org), Soares (2003:25-33), and political resources on East Timor (http://www.politicalresources.net/east_timor.htm).



Paying Respect to the flag of Independent East Timor in Atsabe—Fallen Heroes of the independence fight are remembered in prayer during every Monday’s flag raising ceremony



Structure of the Government

The East Timorese is lead by a president who is elected for five year term. The prime minister is the leader of the political party that won the majority vote. East Timor has a National Parliament. There are also 10 Ministries. The cabinet consists of the prime minister, the Minister in the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and the Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs. The following is a schematic representation of the East Timorese Government.




 This chart is however an oversimplification of the very complex division of powers between a wide variety of councils, the president, parliament and prime minister. As Anthony Regan (2003:40) points out,


There is a council of State that advises the president on certain things; a Standing committee of Parliament with special roles when parliament does not meet; a Superior council for Defence and Security, and son—all with broad and not clearly defined powers.


The constitution, written by the first Constituent Assembly, was modelled after that of Portugal. It took effect with the official independence of the nation on 20 May, 2002. The National Parliament, President and Prime Minister are elected to office by citizens of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, who are 18 years old or older. The following table based on the CIA website provides the Cabinet composition of East Timor.


East Timor


Gusmao, Kay Rala Xanana

Prime Minister

Alkatiri, Mari Bin Amude

Dep. Prime Minister

Silva Pinto, Ana Maria Pessoa Pereira da

Min. for Agriculture, Fisheries, & Forestry

Silva, Estganislau Maria Alexio da

Min. for Development & the Environment

Alkatiri, Mari Bin Amude

Min. for Education, Culture, Youth Affairs, & Sports

Maia, Armindo

Min. for Planning & Finance

Brites Boavida, Maria Madalena

Min. for Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation

Horta, Jose Ramos

Min. for Health

Araujo, Rui Maria do

Min. for Internal Affairs

Lobato, Rogerio Tiago

Min. for Justice

Sarmento, Domingos

Min. for Transportation, Communications, & General Employment

Amaral, Ovidio

Secy. of State for Commerce & Industry

da Cruz, Arlino Rangel

Secy. of State for Council of Ministers

de Sousa, Gregorio

Secy. of State for Defense

Rodrigues, Felix de Jesus (Roque)

Secy. of State for Electricity & Water

de Jesus, Egidio

Secy. of State for Labor & Solidarity

Bano, Arsenio Paixao

Secy. of State for Parliamentary Affairs

Bianco, Antoninho

Secy. of State for Telecommunications

Guterres, Virgilio

Secy. of State for Tourism, the Environment, & Investment

Teixeira, Jose

Ambassador to the US

Guterres, Jose Luis

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York

Guterres, Jose Luis

Source: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/chiefs/chiefs54.html




Heads of state:

President: In the semi-presidential system of East Timor the president is directly elected by the people. He is however more of a figure head, since the prime minister is emphasized in most state affairs (Soares 2003:30). He is viewed as the symbol of independence and “and the guarantor of the smooth functioning of the republic’s democracy” (http://www.gov.east-timor.org). Another function of the president is being the commander of the defence forces (ibid). The limitations of the president’s powers are described by Soares (2003:30) as follows:


The Prime can even limit the role of the president, in that those powers which are the prerogative of the president are required to have approval from the government, making the latter, in some instances, more powerful than the president. For example, Section 85(g) states that, ‘to declare a state of emergency or a state of siege, the president requires the authorisation of the National Parliament, after consultation with the Council of State, the Government [emphasis added] and the Supreme Council of Defence and Security’…Section 80 requires the president to remain in the country during the parliamentary recess period and not to leave the country without the consent of the parliament. In 1979 he became the leader of FRETILIN. After the 1999 referendum and his release from Indonesian jail he had a senior appointment by UNTAET and continued to campaign for unity within the fledgling nation.


The current president is José Alexandre Gusmão, a.k.a.  Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão. He was born in 1946. He was educated by the Jesuits. In the Portuguese administration system of East Timor he was a civil servant in 1966 and later served in the army in 1968.

Prime Minister:  The prime minister is the leader of the majority political party, appointed by the president. He has a five year term. He has the responsibility for the running of the government, including budget, government policy, and the defence. He must seek the approval of the Council of Ministers. The prime minister also oversees the Timor Sea Office and thus the most important negotiations concerning off shore oil and maritime boundaries between East Timor and Australia. The following offices are also directly under the prime minister: National Service for State Security, Inspector-General, Office of the Advisor for Human Rights, Office of the Advisor for Image and Social Communications, Capacity Development Coordination Unit, The Banking and Payments Authority, and Office of the Advisor for Promotion of Equality. The current prime minister is Marí bim Amude Alkatiri (born 1946). He was a co-founder of the independence party, FRETILIN. Abdullah Madani (2002; http://www.etan.org/et2002c/july/21-27/21arab.htm) explains that he is second Timorese born descendant of Yemenese Arab settlers in East Timor. His grandfather migrated from Hadhramut at the end of the 19th century. Alkatiri is one of the most famous tribes in Yemen. The prime ministers education includes that obtained in Dili as well as at the university in Angola. He was a surveyor. After university he was a civil servant in the Portuguese administrative system in East Timor. With Indonesian invasion he became a refugee in Mozambique where he was stranded from a diplomatic trip he undertook 3 days prior to invasion, in the capacity of Minister of State for Political Affairs (of the 1975 Nov. 28 declared East Timor government). In 1977 he was designated as a foreign minister for the East Timorese government in exile as Ramos Horta came to be the Timorese representative at the United Nations. It is to the credit of the East Timorese to elect a Muslim Prime Minister in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country—democracy at work. As the first Prime Minister he has the difficult duty to try to rebuild a country from minimal resources, facing great challenges of underdevelopment, illiteracy, poor health conditions. The Prime Minister has the reputation of being a tough negotiator. In 2003 he created a new post of vice prime minister in order to boost government efficiency in the world's newest nation. He appointed Justice Minister of the ruling Fretilin party to the new post. She replaced at the Justice Ministry by her deputy, Domingos Sarmento.


        Parliamentary System

East Timor has a Unicameral Parliamentary system. The National Parliament has 88 members. The number of seats may vary between 55-65. The members are elected by popular vote for a five-year term, however, the East Timorese people did not vote for individuals but for a party. According to Soares (2003:31), this is not a system that “comes naturally to the East Timorese people and deprives many of them of the opportunity of having elected members representing the particular region of East Timor from which they come….there is no requirement at all for geographic representation.”   It is the National Parliaments duty to pass laws on domestic and foreign policy. The objectives of the parliament are described by http://www.gov.east-timor.org as follow:


“Pass relevant, well drafted legislation in a timely manner; establish a multiparty system and democratic rules through a productive dialogue; provide a counterbalance to the powers of the Presidency and of the Government; and establish and maintain proper, efficient and effective communication between the various branches of the Government in order to ensure respect for the Constitution and the constitutionally enacted laws, transparency within the public administration, and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.”


The first National Parliament was entrusted with the drafting of the Constitution of the Republic. East Timor’s Constituent Assembly on 22 March 2002 signed into force the territory’s first-ever Constitution after six months of drafting. The constitution has 170 articles. The constitution is accessible from the official government web site (http://www.gov.east-timor.org/constitution/constitution.htm).   


Ministries and Judiciary

The ten Ministries include: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Development and Environment, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Transport, Communication and Public Works, Ministry of Planning and Finance, Ministry of Internal Administration. The Last Ministry includes: Secretary of State for Council Ministers, Secretary of State for Electricity and Water, Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs. The Ministry of Development and Environment includes: Secretary of State for Commerce and Industry, Secretary of State for Defence, Secretary of state for Labor and Solidarity, Secretary of State for Tourism, Environment and Investment.

The highest court of Law in East Timor is the The Supreme Court of Justice. This body is headed by a president whose is appointed for a four-year term by the President of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste. One member is elected to the Supreme Court by the National Parliament and the rest of members are appointed by the Superior Council for the Judiciary. The judiciary had to start from scratch. In 2000 UNTAET set up a transitional judicial service which consisted of a small number of East Timorese judges, prosecutors and public defenders. The first group of judges took office on 7 January 2000. Currently there are 11 public defender, 14 prosecutors and 23 judges—thus, the legal system is working with absolute minimal human resources. The system consists of four District Courts (Baucau, Oecussi, Dili, Suai), one Court of Appeal, the office of the Public Defenders and the office of the Public Prosecutor. On February 2003 A Superior Council of Magistrates was established. The Court of Appeal in Dili has only one East Timorese judge and the other two are international judges.


[1] http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/etimindx.htm is yet another useful source for documents and materials describing the formative processes of the new government since 1999. http://adminet.com/world/tp/ and http://www.onlinewomeninpolitics.org/etimor/timormain.htm provide further information on government and politics, with the latter site focusing on East Timorese women in politics.


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