Teburoro Tito joined the Kiribati civil service upon returning home. He became the scholarship officer with the Ministry of Education (1980– 82) and senior education officer responsible for secondary and tertiary schools in January 1983. During that time, Tito represented the Kiribati government at educational meetings and conferences abroad.
Tito's national political career began in 1987 when he was elected to the National Assembly representing the South Tarawa district. He quickly established himself as a leader of the opposition. Also in 1987, he was nominated for the presidential election by the National Assembly and came in second place in a three-way race, obtaining 42.7% of the vote. In 1989, he became the opposition leader upon Harry Tong's decision to step down. As the opposition leader, he was an outspoken critic of the Tabai government's inefficiency and mismanagement. He charged that the qualitative decline of democracy and the government's lack of efficiency were the major reasons for the government's failure to live up to people's expectations. During his first term as a member of the National Assembly, Tito became a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for the Pacific region. In 1991, Tito was reelected to the National Assembly.
On 24 May 1994, President Teannaki (who succeeded Tabai in 1991) was forced to resign after the opposition passed a no-confidence vote. The Teannaki government was accused of financial misuse of travel funds. Executive power was transferred to the Council of State until elections were conducted on 30 September 1994. Tito was elected the third president with 10,834 votes; his three other competitors had less than 4,000 votes each. In November 1998, Tito was reelected, winning 52% of the vote. In the November 2002 parliamentary elections, Tito's party lost 14 of its 25 seats in parliament, which forced a run-off in December. Parliament could not meet until January 2003, which delayed the presidential election until 25 February. Tito won by a narrow margin, defeating his rival Taberannang Timeon by a mere 547 votes.