Libmonster ID: SE-307
Author(s) of the publication: V. F. URLYAPOV

At the very beginning of the XXI century. East Timor, located on the edge of the Malay Archipelago, after 450 years of Portuguese colonial rule and 24 years of Indonesian occupation, became the first State to achieve independence at the beginning of the third millennium. On May 20, 2002, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (DRTL) was proclaimed, with Dili as its capital.


Candidate of Historical Sciences

Immediately, we should note the key role of the international community, represented by the United Nations, in East Timor's acquisition of State sovereignty. In August 1999, a referendum was held under the auspices of the United Nations, in which the vast majority of Timorese, with a total population of about 1 million, 1 rejected the autonomous status within Indonesia and supported independence. Three years later, the UN Interim Administration in East Timor held elections for a Constitutional Assembly that adopted the country's basic law. A local Provisional Administration (government)was formed led by Mari Alkatiri, Secretary General of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN). In April 2002, the national leader of the independence movement, Xanana Gusmau, won the presidential election by a huge margin.

With the declaration of the DRTL, the Constitutional Assembly was transformed into a National Parliament, and the UN Interim Administration transferred powers to the authorities of the newly independent state.


The FRETILIN Government has inherited a heavy legacy. Already one of the poorest countries in Asia, with an income of less than $400 per capita, East Timor has fallen into an economic coma as a result of the wave of violence triggered by pro-Indonesian forces during the 1999 referendum.Public utilities, transport infrastructure, health and education facilities have been almost completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of Timorese have been displaced.

In an effort to radically change the situation, the country's parliament adopted a 5-year national development plan, which defined the strategy and tasks of socio-economic stabilization and further growth. It provided for ensuring an annual economic growth rate of 5% in the medium term, as well as halving the category of citizens living below the absolute poverty line by 2015. By local standards, they accounted for 40% of the urban and 46% of the rural population.

In terms of social and economic development, the country's Government placed its main hopes on revenues from the extraction of hydrocarbons on the Timor Sea shelf. The total oil and gas reserves in this area were estimated at $30 billion. On May 20, 2002, the day of the declaration of the DRTLC, an agreement was signed in Dili with Australia on the Timor Sea, which allowed the start of commercial development of natural gas. Under the agreement, the Timorese side received the right to 90% of the profit from the operation of the Bau Undan gas field. In total, starting in 2004, it was planned to generate about $5 billion in oil and gas revenues over 20 years.

In August 2005, the National Oil Fund was established, which was one of the most important achievements of the Government. Founded after extensive international and domestic political consultations, it was designed to accumulate revenues from offshore oil and gas production. The Foundation was conceived as a foundation for sustainable socio-economic development for present and future generations of Timorese. It was also supposed to help avoid the trap of the "raw materials curse", i.e., a situation in which oil and gas revenues are" eaten up " rather than invested in the development of non-oil sectors of the economy, causing an increase in corruption and civil conflicts, as, for example, occurred in Angola and Nigeria. At the end of 2006, the fund had $650 million on its balance sheet.

With the assistance of the United Nations, as well as a number of friendly States, the Alkatiri cabinet has taken steps to form a civil administration. Cuban specialists were involved in the creation of a modern health system and the campaign to eliminate illiteracy. Institutions of parliamentary democracy have been developed.

At the same time, against the background of relative stability, the prerequisites for a political crisis began to take shape, primarily due to a split in the national elite.

The leaders of the opposition parties believed that the dominance of FRETILIN prevented them from fully realizing themselves in the political arena of the country, and the government's chosen course of socio-economic development blocked access to the financial resources of the young republic, in particular, to the funds of the Oil Fund that had begun to increase.

Relations between the Government and the Catholic Church, which is very influential in East Timor, have become strained. Along with

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Along with the Philippines, East Timor is an Asian country with a predominantly Catholic population of about 90%. Local hierarchs expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the official policy of separation of church and state, especially in the field of education.

Long-standing political and ideological differences* between the leadership of FRETILIN and the President of the Republic, Xanana Gusmau, the "Nelson Mandela of East Timor", who is surrounded by the halo of a national hero for his active participation in the liberation struggle and long-term imprisonment in an Indonesian prison, have openly surfaced. A sharp disengagement has taken place in the ranks of the Timor-Leste Defence Forces, a national army formed mainly of former guerrillas. The natives of the eastern regions of the island felt that they had borne the brunt of the struggle for independence, while many recruits drawn from the western regions had compromised themselves by collaborating with the Indonesian occupation forces. At the same time, people from Western regions expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that they are discriminated against in terms of promotion and access to social benefits. In addition, tense relations have developed between the defense forces and the national Police. During the first years of independence, the police firmly established a reputation as the most corrupt law enforcement agency.

An essential element of the growing domestic political tension was the external factor.

Sharp dissatisfaction with the course of the FRETILIN government led by Alkatiri was expressed by the Conservative cabinet of Australia. Dili's firm position in the negotiations on the maritime border between the two countries, which was crucial for the further distribution of the Timor Sea's oil and gas resources, was a stumbling block. Canberra was also annoyed by the desire of the authorities of Timor-Leste to independently determine the range of foreign partners in the development of hydrocarbon raw materials and, above all, to attract Chinese state-owned companies.

Only in January 2006, with great difficulty, a compromise agreement was reached on the leading gas-bearing field Greater Sunrise. However, the question of establishing a maritime border between the two countries remained open. The Australians managed to impose a provision of the agreement under which the parties refused for 50 years to involve international legal institutions to resolve disputes.

Thus, for the foreseeable future, Timor-Leste will find itself face-to-face with Canberra in solving the problems of its own economic survival.

As a result, the Timorese Prime Minister and his cabinet were the object of discontent both from the local opposition and from the most powerful regional neighbor. At the same time, the position of President Gusmau, who is constitutionally vested with limited powers, but is based on broad authority among the population, came into clear contradiction with the course of the Prime Minister. Despite the fading ideological differences, the mutual antagonism between Gusmau and Alkatiri has not been overcome.


The catalyst for bringing the political crisis to the surface was the performance of part of the East Timor Defense Forces. In early February 2006, military personnel, mostly from western regions, left the barracks. Then they sent a petition to the president demanding to stop the alleged discrimination against them. The protesters were joined by a part of the police.

After consultations between the Prime Minister, the Defense Minister and the army commander, the "dissidents" were ordered to return to their duty stations. Those who refused to obey the order were dismissed for desertion. They turned out to be about 600 people out of the total number of 1,400 armed forces. The government's decision, supported by UN military advisers, only added fuel to the fire.

Formally, from the point of view of ensuring law and order, the Government acted quite reasonably. However, it clearly underestimated the severity of the situation.

April 24, 2006 dismissed military personnel supported by unemployed youth and members of the-

* They originated during the struggle against the Indonesian occupation. Then the future president accused the Central Committee of the Front of "political infantilism" and "doctrinaire Marxism", ignoring the specific conditions of the country.

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members of numerous criminal gangs took part in a protest march in the capital. Initially peaceful in nature, the march later resulted in the destruction of the market, which was mainly traded by people from eastern regions and local Chinese. Demonstrations and acts of violence continued in the following days. Army forces loyal to the government were thrown against the demonstrators, who opened fire on the crowd. 5 people were killed. After that, widespread pogroms and arson attacks began in the capital, and people from the east of the country began to leave the city en masse.

Prime Minister Alkatiri described the protests as an attempted coup against the democratic institutions of power. The statement came shortly after rebel soldiers appealed to President Gusmau to dismiss the Prime minister and disband the army within 48 hours. Meanwhile, the anti-government forces were joined by a military police unit led by Major Alfredo Reinado, who soon took refuge in a mountain range southwest of the capital. The Major was destined to play a very significant role in the subsequent events.

It should be noted that at that time, the UN peacekeeping forces left the country, and only a limited police contingent of the UN mission remained on the island, preparing for an early withdrawal.

Meanwhile, acts of violence continued to escalate.

On 24 May, Timor-Leste officially requested the assistance of the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia. The very next day, the first echelon of Australian troops landed at Dili Airport. At the same time, part of the rebels under the command of Reinado descended from the surrounding mountains, engaging in a firefight with government forces, about 20 people were killed.

Within three days, the Australian contingent was increased to 1 thousand soldiers and officers. By the end of the month, 120 members of the Portuguese Republican Guard had arrived in Dili. Despite the deployment of peacekeeping forces, the political situation in East Timor was becoming increasingly dramatic. In late May, President Gusmau declared a state of emergency in the country. As Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he assumed sole control of the army and police, and coordination with international forces. Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato and Defense Minister Rocky Rodrigues were dismissed.

Despite the state of emergency, mass demonstrations continued in the capital, mainly demanding Alkatiri's resignation. Moreover, the actions were held under the explicit cover of Australian servicemen. The prime minister was accused of illegally arming his supporters from the Fretilin party and criminal elements in collusion with the former Interior Minister.

Rebel Major Reinado, in an interview with the Australian radio and television company LAN, said that Alkatiri is "a criminal who gave the order to open fire on unarmed demonstrators." According to him, the head of government has created a lot of problems for the country by his activities and therefore should leave. He also said that he will not lay down his arms until the prime minister leaves his post.2
At the end of June 2006, President Gusmau openly opposed the Prime Minister. He issued an ultimatum, threatening to resign if Alkatiri did not leave his post. However, the latter, in turn, said that he would vacate his post only if he received the sanction of the ruling party, but the leadership of FRETILIN confirmed his authority.

The split in the government was facilitated by the resignation of recently appointed Defense Minister Ramos-Horta.

In the end, Alkatiri gave up. Australian Cabinet Chief John Howard immediately expressed satisfaction with the removal of the former prime minister, while emphasizing that this is only "part of the process of getting out of this difficult situation."3
Ramos-Horta was appointed as the new Prime Minister. However, after the reorganization of the cabinet, FRETILIN managed to partially retain control of the government. Ramos-Horta remained only a nominal prime minister. In fact, it was headed by Estanislau da Silva, the first deputy chairman of the Board of Directors.-

page 39
tel Premier, one of the leading leaders of the front and a consistent supporter of Alkatiri. Thus, the task set by the opposition and Australia to completely remove FRETILIN was only partially solved.

Everything pointed to the fact that the decisive battle for power was still ahead.

Meanwhile, a new UN representative office, the UN Integrated Mission in East Timor (UNIMET), was established in East Timor. The mission's mandate was to restore security, provide economic assistance, and hold free elections scheduled for 2007. Despite Dili's decision that the mission's activities should be entirely carried out under the auspices of the UN, the Australian command refused to reassign its military personnel, putting them under the control of the Blue Berets.


In early April 2007, the first post-independence presidential elections were held. There were 8 candidates running for the highest post in the state. However, two political figures were recognized as favorites in the election race: the new Prime Minister, Ramos-Horta, who formally ran as an independent candidate, but enjoyed the support of Gusmau and Australia, and the Speaker of the Parliament, "Lou Olo" Guterres, chairman of FRETILIN.

Among local voters, the first candidate was popular in Dili, while the second candidate was popular in rural areas, mainly in the eastern regions. In the end, Ramos-Horta won, winning about 70% of the vote in the second round.

At the end of June, parliamentary elections were held, in which 14 political parties participated. Half of them went to the local legislature. FRETILIN won 29% of the vote and 21 seats. In second place was the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor (NCRT), an association created by Gusmau just before the elections. He won about 24% of the vote and 11 parliamentary seats. The remaining seats went to small opposition parties.

Despite remaining dominant in the political arena, FRETILIN largely lost the support of voters, opening up additional opportunities for the opposition. The reasons for the failure of the Front were both in its party-organizational looseness, the disappointment of some voters with the fruits of the Alkatiri government's activities, and in the strongest propaganda pressure planned and conducted by Canberra.

Eventually, FRETILIN was pushed out of power. A "parliamentary majority alliance" led by the NCRT has emerged in the Parliament. The new Cabinet of Ministers was headed by Gusmau, who also took the post of Minister of Defense and Security.

At the same time, the" unequal marriage " of his party with smaller partners immediately called into question the stability of the formed government and its ability to provide an optimal response to the many problems facing the country. Even before the elections in East Timor, there were doubts about how competent Gusmau would be in his new capacity. In March 2007, Portuguese media quoted him as admitting that the role of president was more difficult than that of leader of the resistance movement.4
FRETILIN's leadership declared the new Government unconstitutional, declaring its intention to fight it through the judiciary, while calling on the population to conduct a campaign of civil disobedience. However, a few days later, the leaders of the Front declared that they would not seek recognition of the illegitimacy of the new cabinet, but would seek to solve the problem by political means and seek the creation of a government of national unity.

Meanwhile, Gusmau unveiled a program of his government, whose main tasks were to stimulate economic growth and fight poverty. For this purpose, it was supposed to widely attract funds accumulated in the Oil Fund. However, it was not specified what industries these funds will go to or how transparent control over their use will become.5
The political crisis took a new turn in early 2008.


In response to the demand for unconditional surrender to the authorities, Major Reinado, who was hiding in the mountains, issued a sensational statement accusing Gusmau of being the main figure who provoked the military action in early 2006, which led to the final ito-

page 40
ge calls for the resignation of the legitimate prime minister 6. Indeed, in March 2006, Gusmau made a clearly inflammatory speech on local television, accusing the FRETILIN Government of corruption and dictatorial habits, of favoritism towards people from the eastern regions. His speech, in essence, was a signal for an upsurge in violence in the country and created a pretext for the entry of Australian troops.

Further events developed in an even more dramatic way.

According to the official version, at dawn on February 11, 2008, a group of soldiers led by Reinado entered the Ramos-Horta residence with the aim of killing or abducting the latter. The changing of the guard, who arrived at the residence, found suspicious armed persons there and opened fire. In the ensuing firefight, Reinado and one of his accomplices were killed. Hearing the shots, President Ramos-Horta rushed to his residence, near which he was shot at and received two injuries. The remaining rebels hurriedly fled. That same night, a seriously wounded Ramos-Horta was flown to an Australian hospital in Darwin.

Upon learning of the incident, Prime Minister Gusmau immediately went to the scene, accompanied by an armed escort. Along the way, the motorcade of cars, according to the authorities, was shelled by another group of rebels, but the prime minister was not injured.

According to an unofficial version, Reinado arrived at the residence to negotiate with the president. When he heard gunfire, he ran out of the house and was shot at point-blank range by government soldiers. They also wounded Ramos-Horta himself. As for the assassination attempt on Gusmau, it was staged from beginning to end.7
One way or another, the official interpretation of the "double attempt" gave the authorities a reason to introduce a "reinforced state of emergency". More than 200 people were arrested, including parliamentarians and journalists.

Another crisis allowed Australia to strengthen its presence in the island nation, increasing the number of military personnel deployed there. New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said Australian troops will remain in East Timor for as long as necessary. Canberra has spent $4 billion since 1999. for a military police operation in Timor and only $550 million. for official development assistance. However, this assistance was mainly intended to strengthen the position of Australian oil and gas companies by "feeding" part of the local elite.8
The formation of the parliamentary majority Alliance Government led by Gusmau has not eased political tensions. Moreover, a number of unpopular measures taken by the authorities have further exacerbated the crisis trends: a significant reduction in taxes on private companies, cuts in pensions for veterans of the liberation struggle, and food rations for refugees. Inflation continued to spiral steadily, especially in fuel and rice prices.

An official investigation into the attempted "double assassination" was never launched. Rumours continued to circulate in Dili that Gusmau had deliberately "framed" Major Reinada for bullets, fearing further exposure of his role in the 2006 inspired crisis.At the same time, as the Sydney newspaper Ostralien noted, Gusmau's image as a national hero began to fade steadily, especially among Timorese youth. In her environment, there were accusations that the current prime minister is an Australian protege, and his

page 41
the government is corrupt and incompetent. It has also been suggested that Gusmau, as commander of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, collaborated with the Indonesian Army to neutralize the radical leaders of the guerrilla movement.9
The ongoing political instability resulted in the withdrawal of the "parliamentary majority Alliance" of the Timor Social Democratic Association in May 2008, which immediately agreed with FRETILIN on the possibility of forming a new Government. In turn, FRETILIN called on President Ramos-Horta to hold early elections or instruct the opposition to form a new cabinet. The Front's leadership has put forward its own formula for overcoming the crisis. It was proposed, in effect, to create a government of national unity, determining the future Prime Minister by consensus among the parliamentary parties and distributing ministerial portfolios in proportion to the number of party seats in the national legislature. 10
Once in opposition, the leadership of FRETILIN closely followed the new government's plans aimed at revising the previous economic policy. It reacted with hostility to Gusmau's announced intention to invest the Oil Fund's funds in treasury securities in early 2008.

FRETILIN also condemned the plans of the new authorities to create an "economic stabilization fund" at the expense of the Oil Fund, but in excess of the established moving bar. Without objecting to the need for an adequate response to the sharp rise in the price of imported food and petroleum products, the party accused that the additional funds would not be used to solve the problem, but would end up in the pockets of businessmen associated with the new ruling elite.

Despite the sharp debate between the main opponents in the country's political elite, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) positively assesses the economic situation in Timor-Leste.

A report presented to the IMF in early April 2009 to the DRTLD donors ' meeting in Dili noted that the country's economy grew dynamically in 2008 due to the strengthening of law and order, increased government spending, and a good food crop harvest. Real GDP growth (excluding oil and gas) was 12.5%. Inflation, which reached 11% in mid-2008, then declined due to falling world prices for consumer goods and government intervention in the rice market.

East Timor has been only marginally affected by the global crisis that has erupted. However, since oil and gas revenues accounted for 95% of government revenues, they may decline by 60% in 2009 if global prices for raw hydrocarbons are unstable. The oil fund is able to mitigate the negative impact of falling prices, but government spending cuts will be inevitable.

Thanks to high oil prices, government spending has increased fourfold over the past two years, and assets accumulated in the oil fund reached $4.2 billion at the end of 2008. According to the IMF, although it is probably time to expand the portfolio of foreign investments, it is necessary to keep in force the basic principles laid down in the law on the establishment of the Oil Fund 11.

The World Bank (WB) has a different opinion.

The Australian newspaper obtained the text of the bank's draft at the end of April 2009. It noted that the recent actions taken by the DRTL authorities have had only a minor impact on addressing the political instability in the country. "It would be a mistake to assume that these highly publicized steps have eliminated the risk of further political instability," the document said. The World Bank pointed out gross miscalculations in the decisions of the current government, leading to the squandering of public funds and the growth of corruption. The role of international donors in efforts to overcome East Timor's state of extreme underdevelopment was also criticized. According to the UN Development Index, the country ranked 150th out of 177 countries in the world12.

Assessing the dramatic events that have taken place in Timor-Leste in recent years, some experts call it a "failed State". This appears to be a hasty and unwarranted conclusion.

The resulting political turbulence is a natural reflection of the difficulties of the complex process of state and national construction that began almost from scratch.

Overcoming the current political crisis will depend on the success of creating stable and effective public administration institutions, solving pressing socio-economic problems based on the development of equal international cooperation and rational use of oil and gas revenues.

1 UN statistics. See:

2 The Age. Canberra, 02.06.2006.

3 ABC Lateline, 26.06.2006.

4 New Party Huge Gamble for Gusmao -, 17.03.2007.

5, 11.07.2007.

6, 22.01.2008.

7, 19.02.2008.

8 Ibidem.

9 The Australian, 17.05.2008.

10 East Timor: Xanana Gusmao's Coalition Government in Crisis -, 11.06.2008.

11 IMF Statement to the East Timor Development Partners Meeting 2009, 24.04.2009.

12 Warning on East Timor Instability by World Bank -, 29.04.2009.


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