East Timor - Rise to power



During the UN administration period, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) was formed as a loose coalition with Fretilin and its long-time rival Timorese Democratic Union; Xanana Gusmao was the guiding force and unifying factor for the CNRT. Gusmao stepped down as leader of Falintil in August 2000 to become a civilian leader. A congress of the CNRT was convened in August 2000 to begin drafting a constitution. Having evolved from a popular underground movement to a well-organized national political party, Fretilin, with Mari Alkatari in charge, dominated the drafting process.

The first democratic elections in East Timor were held on 30 August 2001. After a campaign in which it was accused of intimidating behavior, Fretilin won 55 seats in the new 88-member Constituent Assembly. The Democratic Party won 7 seats; the Social Democratic Party, 6; the Timorese Social Democratic Association, 6; and the Timorese Democratic Union, 2. The margin of victory was less than Fretilin had predicted, and left Fretilin without the two-thirds majority it needed for automatic approval of its draft Constitution. The Constituent Assembly convened on 15 September 2001, and produced the official Constitution based on that of Portugal, and having a parliamentary structure. The Constitution guarantees a free press, does not specify a state religion, but does specify a nonpolitical military. The government has three branches: executive, legislative, and judiciary. Power in the executive branch is shared by a prime minister and a president. As secretary general of Fretilin, the majority party, Mari Alkatiri became the first prime minister and economics minister, and Jose Ramos-Horta was made foreign minister.

Xanana Gusmao, having quit Fretilin to run as an independent, was overwhelmingly elected president on 14 April 2002. During the presidential campaign Alkatiri had announced that he would not endorse Gusmao and would cast a blank vote.

Although the presidency ended up an essentially ceremonial role due to the influence of Alkatiri and Fretilin, Gusmao's status as a national hero (he is called "the Mandela of East Timor," a reference to South Africa's anti-apartheid hero, Nelson Mandela) means that he continues to play a prominent role. Gusmao is seen as a reconciler, a "referee" between factions, and an anticorruption prodemocratic influence. Gusmao's relations with Alkatiri have often appeared strained, and he is considered the key to preventing Fretilin from making East Timor a one-party state.

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