Joel Rubin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Though his adversaries grumble about the political jockeying that led to Ramos-Horta's appointment, critics and allies agree that he was the only choice to assume control at this volatile crossroads. The country's beloved president, Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, who led an armed resistance against Indonesia, is tiring of his public role. "There are only two people on this island who the people know and trust," said Gelasio da Silva, a parish priest in the devoutly Roman Catholic nation. "He is one of them." [Source: Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2006 |::|]

“In many ways, Ramos-Horta is an anomaly in his country. His hand-tailored shirts and sport coats are a rarity among the ragged clothes most East Timorese wear. On an island where few have ever stepped off its shores, Ramos-Horta's impressive thatched villa is filled with gifts from world leaders: a large box of cigars from Fidel Castro, a bust of his hero, Robert F. Kennedy, given to him by the family. His shelves are lined with books in five languages, in a country where about 45 percent of adults are illiterate. And despite a strict Catholic education, Ramos-Horta is no longer particularly religious. His skin is lighter than that of most East Timorese, a reflection of his mixed background. |::|

Now, far away from the glass offices of the United Nations and comfortable couches of senators' offices, he insists that if he is going to be involved in the rebuilding of East Timor, he is content to leave the traveling behind. "Being here surrounded by these wonderful people — majestic, natural ... I would have to be an incredible hypocrite, cynical, to be insensitive and miss the glamour of life as a diplomat, a foreign minister, elsewhere," he said. "In the last years I have been everywhere around the world, in palaces with kings, with queens and with millionaires.... Here I am dealing with real people who test my own humanity." Still, at times Ramos-Horta seems to go a bit stir-crazy within the small, unrefined confines of the island that his nation shares with the Indonesian province of West Timor. He talks excitedly about an upcoming gathering in the U.S. with several other Nobel laureates. He waxes nostalgic about sipping cappuccinos in Rome and Paris. |::|


Challenges Facing Jose Ramos-Horta as Prime Minister of East Timor

After independence, East Timor has struggled under heavy expectations and pressure by an international community keen on demonstrating that nation-building can succeed. Many East Timorese looked to Ramos-Horta for a better life. Joel Rubin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “ In East Timor's few years as a sovereign nation, the government has made little headway on that front. Although millions of dollars in revenue from oil fields have begun to flow in, the country still has a severe shortage of capable people. Most ministries are woefully lacking in staff and training needed to undertake the basics of governing. For example, welfare and pension systems have not been established, while unemployment among young men in Dili hovers at 40 percent. No formal penal code has been adopted, and the country's few operating courts — staffed almost entirely by foreign judges and lawyers because there are too few qualified East Timorese — are helplessly backlogged. Roads are in disrepair, and electricity outside Dili is usually cut at night. [Source: Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2006 |::|]

Ramos-Horta promises improvements. In speeches and in interviews, he says often that he wants to help the poor. When villagers at a meeting in a remote mountain town complained about feeling isolated, for example, he said he would look into providing televisions for each of the country's roughly 400 villages. He says money already has been set aside to build new offices for hundreds of villages. |::|

“But some who know Ramos-Horta fear he doesn't understand how hard it is to turn words into action in such an undeveloped land. That, mixed with his high hopes for the country and his image as savior, could be setting the country up for another fall. Ramos-Horta readily acknowledges that he has only a fleeting interest in and a weak grasp of the intricacies of running a government. He relied heavily on two vice prime ministers to guide him through parliament's recent budget debates. "He talks about his dreams for this country, and I just hope his dreams do not become nightmares," said Ana Pessoa, a respected minister in the government who was briefly married to Ramos-Horta and is the mother of his only child. "We have asked him to refrain from dreaming without first pondering ... because when you speak in a way that people believe you are promising to do something tomorrow, it can be tricky when tomorrow comes." "If he fails, we have no else to turn to. We have no one else." |::|

Jose Ramos-Horta’s Effort to End the Violence in 2006

Joel Rubin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Ramos-Horta is under pressure to restore a sense of calm and stability to Dili. The rioting by gangs and renegade troops, touched off by his predecessor's controversial firing of 600 disgruntled soldiers, has largely subsided, but not before at least 30 people were killed, scores of homes torched and government offices ransacked. Amid the chaos, Ramos-Horta ventured into neighborhoods and hospitals in the middle of the night in an attempt to ease tensions. Later, when he announced an amnesty for people who handed in their weapons, he gave his cellphone number, offering to collect the arms himself. [Source: Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2006 |::|]

He has demanded that the U.N. return in force to help secure the country. In recent weeks he has criticized the world body sharply, saying it has abandoned East Timor too quickly. Last week, the U.N. Security Council approved plans to send about 1,600 police officers to the island for at least six months but refused to approve Secretary-General Kofi Annan's request to bolster the new force with hundreds of peacekeeping soldiers.” |::|

In August 2006, the non-military peacekeeping mission, the UN Integrated Mission in East Timor, or Unmit, was set up. NBC news reported: “The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to authorize 1,600 international police and 34 military liaison officers for a follow-on mission in East Timor — but no troops. A U.N. political mission had been scheduled to shut down on May 20 of this year. But violence erupted in East Timor in March after then-Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri fired about 600 soldiers, sparking clashes between rival security forces in the capital that later spilled into gang warfare, looting and arson. The Security Council extended the mandate of the political mission until Aug. 20, and then for another week because of division among council members over whether foreign troops helping to restore security at the government's request should become part of a new U.N. peacekeeping mission or operate without a U.N. umbrella. [Source: NBC, August 25, 2006]

Violence in East Timor under Jose Ramos-Horta’s Watch

In October 2006, East Timor's airport in the capital Dili was closed after violent clashes nearby between groups of youths left at least two people dead. Lirio da Fonseca of Reuters wrote: “The closure of the main air hub highlights the fragile security situation in the fledging nation, despite the presence of an Australian-led peacekeeping force. "All flights since last night have been cancelled until today. The reason for this is because there will be no security guarantee for the passengers," Rosa, an airport official who goes by one name, told Reuters. [Source: Lirio da Fonseca, Reuters,October 25, 2006 -]

“The closure came amid violent clashes among youth gangs armed with guns, bows and arrows and rocks near the airport. Twelve houses were burnt in the fighting, police and residents said. The first clash occurred on a main road leading to the airport with one person killed by gunfire. Another clash broke out early on Wednesday, killing another resident. Australian troops guarding the airport had opened fire on an armed man who approached them in a threatening way, a spokesman for Australian Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said. "His actions led to an Australian Defence Force member firing a number of shots in self-defence," the spokesman said, adding the man fled. It was unclear whether he was wounded.” -

AFP reported: “At least one civilian was killed in the fighting which erupted on Tuesday when a group of youths attacked a refugee camp near the airport, said the source in Dili who requested anonymity. Shots were fired, and stones and fuel bombs were thrown during the fighting, according to the source who said he was with the tiny country's social affairs minister, Arsenio Bono, when the fighting spread to the airport. The pair were among several people trapped for several hours at the airport which was closed after all those inside were ordered to leave underthe guard of United Nations peacekeepers, he said. A source in East Timor said he had also heard that one Australian soldier, part of the UN peacekeeping forces which intervened in the clash, was hit by a fuel bomb thrown by one of the rival gangs.” [Source: AFP, October 25, 2006]

According to Reuters: “Battles among gangs of youths are common in the impoverished country, which gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 and where unemployment is widespread among the young. The airport road straddles areas known for frequent gang clashes and peacekeepers have struggled to contain the sporadic violence, with gangs often melting away quickly after trouble. "There were provocateurs in the road that leads to the airport. They burnt tyres and blocked the road," Nelson, who lives near the area and did not give a second name, told Reuters. An Australian police officer said many shots were fired during the clashes. -

“East Timor plunged into chaos four months earlier when a series of protests developed into widespread violence after 600 members of the 1,400-strong army were sacked. An estimated 100,000 people were displaced in the fighting, which led to the deployment of a 2,500-strong international peacekeeping force. A strengthened police element in the force has so far struggled to contain sporadic violence. Concerns about East Timor's fragile security grew after rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado escaped from a Dili prison last month along with 50 other inmates. Reinado, a key player behind the May revolt, has called for a "people power" revolution in a letter circulating in the country. -

East Timorese Elections in 2007 and the Violence That Preceded Them

Presidential elections were held in East Timor in April 2007. Parliamentary elections were held in June 2007. One the eve of the presidential election, Ian MacKinnon wrote in The Guardian, “Ballot boxes were distributed to remote polling stations across East Timor as thousands of worshippers filled churches to pray for a peaceful presidential election in the first ballot since independence five years ago. Tensions remained high as thousands of international peace-keeping troops and UN police patrolled the streets to prevent clashes between the eight candidates' supporters. Over the weekend officials said that more than 200 people had been arrested during the past fortnight in an effort to head off trouble and many gang leaders remained in preventive custody. At least 32 people were injured in battles between supporters of the candidates. [Source: Ian MacKinnon, The Guardian, April 9, 2007 /~]

“President Xanana Gusmao said the election offered the chance to prove the impoverished nation was not a failed state. He is to seek the office of prime minister in a ballot later in the year while his ally, José Ramos-Horta, the Nobel peace prize winner, is regarded as one of the front runners in the race for the largely ceremonial role of president.However, growing disillusionment with Mr Ramos-Horta, the current prime minister, is believed to have left an opening for two rivals to mount an effective challenge among the country's half million voters. Francisco Guterres, the party chairman of the leftwing Fretilin party, is now also a leading contender along with Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo. He and three other candidates accused the government of intimidation and manipulating the electoral process. With so many candidates in today's race it appears unlikely that any will achieve the 50 percent threshold needed for outright victory, forcing a runoff in another ballot that has been set for May 9. /~\

A few days earlier, Anthony Deutsch of Associated Press wrote: “ Hundreds of young men supporting rival political parties clashed in East Timor's capital on the final day of campaigning for next week's presidential elections. At least 32 people were injured, some seriously, officials said. At several locations across Dili, UN peacekeepers fired in the air and waved batons to disperse crowds of shouting youths on Wednesday, some with faces painted the colours of political parties, only to watch them regroup later. [Source: Anthony Deutsch, Associated Press, April 5, 2007 |=|]

“Presidential candidate Francisco Xavier do Amaral, 75, was on his last campaign stop when his supporters hurled rocks at an approaching gang linked to the ruling Fretilin party. One man was hit in the face and UN police fired six warning shots to keep the groups apart, but do Amaral said he was not too worried. "Fretilin are afraid of losing, so they resort to intimidation," he said, accusing the party of stoking unrest. "They don't like elections because the people are on my side, not theirs." Hospital officials said 32 people were hurt during Wednesday's clashes, including an eight-year-old girl who was hit in the head by a rock. A UN statement said at least two foreign peacekeepers were among the injured. |=|

Ramos-Horta Wins 2007 Presidential Election

Jose Ramos-Horta won presidential election with a surprisingly strong showing. “The post of president is largely ceremonial. Patrick O’Connor wrote in the World Socialist Web Site, “Jose Ramos-Horta has claimed victory in East Timor’s presidential election after recording 69 percent of the vote in last Wednesday’s run-off ballot. Fretilin’s Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres—the leading candidate in the first round of voting held last month—polled just 31 percent.[Source: Patrick O’Connor, World Socialist Web Site, May 14, 2007 *]

“Despite the president having no constitutional authority to determine economic and social policy, Ramos-Horta published a lengthy platform outlining his vision of turning East Timor into a regional investment hub by effectively abolishing corporate taxes and all constraints on the activities of international investors in the country. A highly regressive 10 percent flat tax on personal incomes was also promised. The president-elect said he would hand over at least $US10 million to the powerful Catholic Church. The Church bitterly opposed Fretilin’s refusal to allow Catholic control over religious education in public schools. After his resignation last year, Alkatiri accused the Church of being involved in a series of coup plots against his government. *

Five of the six losing candidates in the first round backed Horta in the run-off. Horta won large votes in districts where he obtained virtually nothing in the first round. Among the most important endorsement was that of the Democratic Party’s candidate, Fernando “La Sama” de Araujo, who won 19 percent of the vote in the first round. De Araujo, who has close connections with prominent figures aligned with Indonesian special forces and pro-Indonesian militias, endorsed Ramos-Horta after he promised to call off the Australian military’s so-called pursuit of rebel army leader Alfredo Reinado, who is aligned with de Araujo. Reinado is a highly dubious figure who played an important role in destabilising the Alkatiri government in 2006 when he attacked East Timorese army forces loyal to the government. *

Parliamentary Elections in East Timor in 2007

A parliamentary election was held in East Timor on June 30, 2007. At stake was the more powerful post of prime minister, a job sought by Ramos-Horta's close political ally, Xanana Gusmao, the popular outgoing president. Although Fretilin won with the highest number of votes it did not obtain the majority needed to govern alone and formed a coalition with the next three largest groups.New Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão (who was the nation's President until May 2007) of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) was sworn in August 2007; Fernando de Araújo of the Democratic Party became President of the National Parliament. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Fourteen parties participated in the election for the 65 seats in parliament, conducted on the basis of proportional representation with party lists. Former President Xanana Gusmão contested the elections with his newly founded National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction. Seven parties won seats; the four leading parties are the Fretilin, Gusmão's CNRT, a coalition of the Timorese Social Democratic Association and the Social Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party. In early June, two supporters of the CNRT were killed in pre-election violence at the beginning of the campaign period; the rest of the campaign period was reportedly peaceful, however. +

Ed Davies and Tito Belo of Reuters wrote: The “election in the former Portuguese colony and the month-long campaign period preceding the poll passed off mostly peacefully, helped by the presence of 1,700 U.N. police and a force of Australian-led troops. Under a new system, ballot boxes from polling stations were transferred to district counting centers, using helicopters in remote spots, particularly after heavy rains in parts of the country washed away roads. Fourteen parties contested the vote, widely regarded as a showdown between the ruling Fretilin party and CNRT, a party launched by East Timor's resistance hero Xanana Gusmao. More than half-a-million people were eligible to vote. The capital Dili was calm with East Timorese walking on the beach-front and going to Sunday mass. South Africa's 16-member observer mission said in a statement that East Timor's election was "peaceful, free and fair". Nearly 500 foreign observers monitored Saturday's polls. [Source: Ed Davies and Tito Belo, Reuters, July 1, 2007]

“Provisional results announced on July 9 show Fretilin in first place with 29.02 percent of the vote, followed by the CNRT with 24.10 percent, the ASDT-PSD with 15.73 percent, and the Democratic Party with 11.30 percent. On the same day, the electoral commission announced the distribution of seats based on the provisional results: 21 for Fretilin, 18 for the CNRT, 11 for the ASDT-PSD, 8 for the Democratic Party, 3 for the National Unity Party, 2 for the Democratic Alliance, and 2 for UNDERTIM. In order to win seats, a party had to receive at least 3 percent of the vote, and seven parties did not reach this level. The electoral commission placed voter turnout at 80.5 percent.” +

Xanana Gusmao Emerges as Prime Minister After a Coalition is Formed

Shortly after the election, a CNRT spokesman said that the party was discussing the possibility of forming a coalition with the ASDT-PSD and the Democratic Party. Fretilin secretary-general Mari Alkatiri also said his party was engaged in coalition talks, but said there was no possibility of the party forming a coalition with the CNRT. PSD leader Mario Viegas Carrascalao said that an alliance of his party with the CNRT would be "natural", but that the presence of a breakaway faction of Fretilin in the CNRT was "unacceptable". Democratic Party leader Fernando "Lasama" de Araújo said that his party could form a coalition with the CNRT, as there were "no big differences" between it and Gusmão, but also said that there should be a government of national unity including all parties elected to parliament; he argued that it would be harmful to exclude anyone due to what he described as deep differences already existing in the country. President José Ramos-Horta also mentioned the possibility of a national unity government, but Alkatiri, reiterating that a coalition including both Fretilin and the CNRT was out of the question, said that it would be better for democracy for there to be a strong opposition. [Source: Wikipedia +]

On July 16, President Ramos-Horta said that Fretilin and the CNRT-led alliance of parties had agreed to form a national unity government, On July 6, it was announced that the CNRT, the ASDT-PSD, and the Democratic Party would form a coalition. Alkatiri argued that it is not necessary for a party to have a majority of seats to govern, and that Fretilin could form a minority government; on July 7, he said that Fretilin would do so if it could not form a coalition with other parties. However, he subsequently expressed interest in a government of national unity and said that Fretilin's doors were "open for all parties, including CNRT". +

Ramos-Horta announced on August 6 that the CNRT-led coalition would form the government and that Gusmão would become Prime Minister. Fretilin denounced Ramos-Horta's decision as unconstitutional, and angry Fretilin supporters in Dili immediately reacted to Ramos-Horta's announcement with violent protests. On August 7, Alkatiri said that the party would fight the decision through legal means. Gusmão was sworn in at the presidential palace in Dili on August 8; most of his government was also sworn in on the same day. José Luís Guterres, the leader of a dissident Fretilin faction, became Deputy Prime Minister. +

Violence and Protests After 2007 Parliamentary Elections in East Timor

After the 2007 parliamentary elections an estimated 600 houses were burnt by marauding mobs. The majority of the damage was experienced in the areas where Fretilin's support is strongest between Viqueque and Baucau. A few buildings in Dili were also torched. Alkatiri said that Fretilin would urge the people to protest and practice civil disobedience. He said that Fretilin was not responsible for the violence, which he said was the result of the people's frustration, and that he hoped the discontent did not lead to a "people's power" revolt, although he said Fretilin could not "stop the people protesting for their rights". On August 10, a convent in Baucau was attacked and damaged, and a number of female students at the convent were said to have been raped. The government said that a child had been killed in Viqueque, the first death to be reported in the unrest. On August 11, a UN convoy of three vehicles was attacked between Baucau and Viqueque. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Emma O'Brien of Bloomberg wrote: “Violence in East Timor, sparked by the exclusion of the Fretilin party from government for the first time since independence five years earlier, intensified in the country's east with an attack on a United Nations convoy. Three UN vehicles were ambushed Aug. 11 as they drove between Bacau, East Timor's second-largest city, and Viqueque, where more than 140 houses were destroyed in earlier rioting. Shots were fired and stones were thrown at the convoy, which carried seven UN personnel, two local police officers and an aid worker, said Allison Cooper, the UN mission's spokeswoman. Supporters of Fretilin rioted after the Aug. 6 appointment as prime minister of former President Xanana Gusmao. [Source: Emma O'Brien, Bloomberg, August 13, 2007 ]

“Police are also investigating claims by a priest that "several'' girls were raped Aug. 12 in a convent in the country's east, the Associated Press reported. Father Basilio Maria Ximenes said an 8-year-old girl was among those assaulted at the Salesian Don Bosco Convent, AP said. The UN received a report of a rape and had been told the perpetrator was arrested, Cooper said. Fretilin offered to investigate the UN convoy attack, which it said was provoked by UN police destroying protesters' banners and flags, the party said in an e-mailed statement. “

In mid August, Bano said that Fretilin would not challenge the government in court, and expressed a desire for a "political solution" leading to the creation of a national unity government. After initially boycotting parliament, the Fretilin members began attending later in August. On August 23, violence occurred in several places, including Dili, and two people were reported killed in Ermera. In Metinaro, near Dili, there was fighting in the streets with machetes and other weapons; at least ten houses were reportedly burned and the town's market was destroyed. +

East Timor Under Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao

Commenting on Xanana Gusmao’s stewardship as prime minister, Brendan Brady wrote in Time, “Control of the government comes with a deep chest: a sovereign fund holding revenue from sales of offshore oil and gas now stands at around $10 billion, a considerable sum for an impoverished nation of 1.1 million people. The current ruling coalition headed by Gusmão has drawn heavily — alarmingly so, say some critics — from the fund since it took control of the government in 2007. It initiated a popular pension program for the elderly as well as guerrilla veterans. The biggest portion of the pot has gone to infrastructure.[Source: Brendan Brady, Time, March 19, 2012 /]

“The Prime Minister’s vision is to pave the way to development through asphalt and power lines, a plan whose basic outlines are widely supported. But critics contend that roads are perennially being rebuilt because they are poorly maintained. And Gusmão’s marquee electricity project, a 120-megawatt power plant 10 km outside of Dili, suffered constant delays and cost overruns because of poor planning and dubious craftsmanship by the contracted firm, the ominously named China Nuclear Industry 22nd Construction Co. Ltd. /

“Low spending on social services has also drawn criticism. This year’s government budget has allotted approximately the same funds for road construction as education and health care services combined. East Timor has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world, and schools lack basic resources such as textbooks, chairs and clean toilets. “If the budget keeps growing, but regular people are still drinking dirty water, we can’t call that social justice,” said Lourdes Alves de Araújo, head of Organizasaun Popular Mulher de Timor, a women’s group affiliated with the opposition Fretelin party.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Northern Illinois University, Department of Anthropology and Center for Southeast Asian Studies, May 2005 Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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