The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste provides for a Parliamentary System of government, with President as the Head of State and the popularly elected Prime Minister as Head of government. The Legislature is a unicameral Parliament, composed of the National Assembly.

Head of State
Head of Government
National Assembly
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Head of State
East Timor’s constitution took effect when the territory officially became independent in May 2002. It provides for a democratic republic with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. All citizens aged 18 and older have the right to vote.

The president of East Timor is directly elected to serve a five-year term and may serve no more than two consecutive terms. Under the constitution, the president is the symbol of East Timorese independence and the guarantor of the smooth functioning of the republic’s democratic institutions. The president is the supreme commander of the defense forces.

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão (born June 20, 1946), born José Alexandre Gusmão, is the inaugural President of the small nation of East Timor in Southeast Asia.

Gusmão was born to school-teacher parents in Manaututo in what was then Portuguese Timor, and attended a Jesuit high school just outside of Dili. After leaving high-school at the age of sixteen (for financial reasons), he worked a variety of unskilled jobs, although he continued his education at evening college. In 1965, at the age of 19, he met Emilia Batista, who was later to become his wife.

In 1966 Gusmão obtained a position with the public service, which allowed him to continue his education. This was interrupted in 1968 when Gusmão was recruited in the Portuguese army for national service.

He served for three years, rising to the rank of corporal. During this time he married Emilia Batista, by whom he had two children, his son Eugenio, and daughter Zenilda.

He relates that his people told him to 'never give up' and he found himself in having to rebuild the shattered resistance

1971 was a turning point for Gusmão. He completed his national service, his son was born, and he became involved with a nationalist organisation headed by José Ramos Horta. For the next three years he was actively involved in peaceful protests at the colonial system.

It was in 1974 that a left-wing coup in Portugal resulted in the beginning of decolonisation for Portuguese Timor, and shortly afterwards the Governor Mário Lemos Pires announced plans to grant the colony independence. Plans were drawn up to hold general elections with a view to independence in 1978.

During most of 1975 a bitter internal struggle occurred between two rival factions in Portuguese Timor. Gusmão became deeply involved with the Fretilin faction, and as a result he was arrested and imprisoned by the rival faction the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) in mid-1975.

Taking advantage of the internal disorder, and with an eye to absorbing the colony, Indonesia immediately began a campaign of destabilisation, and frequent raids into Portuguese Timor were staged from Indonesian Timor.

By late 1975 the Fretilin faction had gained control of Portuguese Timor and Gusmão was released. He was given the position of Press Secretary within the Fretilin organisation. On November 28, 1975, Fretilin declared the independence of Portuguese Timor as "The Democratic Republic of East Timor", and Gusmão was responsible for filming the ceremony.

Nine days later Indonesia invaded East Timor. At the time Gusmão was visiting friends outside of Dili and he witnessed the invasion from the hills. For the next few days he searched for his family.

During the early 1990s Gusmão became heavily involved in diplomacy and media management, and was instrumental in alerting the world to the massacre that occurred in Santa Cruz on November 12, 1991. Gusmão was interviewed by many major media channels and obtained worldwide attention.

As a result of his high profile, Gusmão became a prime target of the Indonesian government. A campaign for his capture was finally successful in November 1992. In May, 1993, Gusmão was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Indonesian Government. He was denied the right to a defence. Although not released until late 1999, Gusmão successfully led the resistance from within prison. During this time he was regularly visited by United Nations representatives, and dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela.

The man who had led the East Timorese through fratricide, occupation and the independence ballot, had finally agreed to run as the new nation's first head of state

On August 30, 1999, a referendum was held in East Timor and an overwhelming majority voted for independence. The Indonesian military commenced a campaign of terror as a result, with terrible consequences. Although the Indonesian government denied ordering this offensive, they were widely condemned for failing to prevent it. As a result of overwhelming diplomatic pressure from the United Nations, and particularly the United States and Australia, an Australian-led UN-peackeeping force entered East Timor, and Gusmão was finally released. Upon his return to Dili, he began a campaign of reconciliation and rebuilding.

Gusmão was appointed to a senior role in the UN administration that governed East Timor until 2002. During this time he continually campaigned for unity and peace within East Timor, and was generally regarded as the de facto leader of the emerging nation. Elections were held in late 2001 and Gusmão was comfortably elected leader. As a result he became the first President of East Timor when it became formally independent on May 20, 2002.

Head of Government

East Timor’s constitution took effect when the territory officially became independent in May 2002. It provides for a democratic republic with a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. All citizens aged 18 and older have the right to vote.

The prime minister oversees the day-to-day functioning of government and chairs the Council of Ministers. The prime minister is designated by the political party or alliance of political parties with a majority in the national legislature and formally appointed by the president. Ministers are also appointed by the president, following the recommendations of the prime minister.

As head of the first government of an independent Timor-Leste, the Prime Minister is charged with the enormous task of building a government from almost nothing. The United Nations second mission in Timor-Leste (UNTAET - United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor) acted as the governing body of Timor-Leste from 2000 to May 20, 2002 when Timor-Leste made the final transition to independence.

Now, the Prime Minister and his government are rebuilding the country and its institutions with minimal resources including a severe lack of human resources and skills. They are reconstructing a nation in which most homes, government buildings and essential infrastructure were destroyed by exiting Indonesian militia in 1999 after an overwhelming vote for independence. The government is facing the challenges of unacceptably high rates of illiteracy, infant mortality, and post-conflict trauma. Most people in Timor-Leste do not have access to running water or electricity in their homes. And, the people of Timor-Leste are coming to terms with freedom and the ideals of democracy after more than 400 years of colonization and occupation.

This first government of Timor-Leste and its Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, have tackled these difficulties in the first two years of its five year term. With the support of its development partners, the government has written and approved the Timor-Leste Constitution, and in accordance with the Constitution a National Development Plan and The Road Map for the implementation of NDP programs. The Timor-Leste Government is considered by the World Bank to be the 'strongest institution in Timor-Leste". Despite weaknesses in other institutions the government upholds and practices the principles of transparency, accountability and the rule of law.

The Prime Minister is committed to ensuring the government continues to reduce poverty and improve the livelihoods of the people of Timor-Leste. He is also committed to ensuring the development of all important sectors relevant to this objective as set out in the National Development Plan with the hope of a prosperous and safe future for Timor-Leste.

While East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao -a former guerrilla fighter and poet - is viewed as a charismatic "man of the people", Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri is lower profile and is seen as more elusive. Alkatiri helped to found the independence party Fretilin.

Marí bim Amude Alkatiri (born 26 November 1949) is the first Prime Minister of an internationally recognized East Timor. Before entering politics, he was a chartered surveyor, and lived in exile during Indonesian occupation.The 54-year-old former chartered surveyor spent the years of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor living in political exile, only returning to the territory in 1999 ahead of the vote for independence. He was engaged in academic teaching in Mozambique.

But he established his political roots from an early age.

He entered political life in January 1970, when he was 20, with the establishment of the Movement for the Liberation of East Timor when the territory was still under Portuguese rule.

Mr Alkatiri went on to become one of the founder members of Fretilin, the party which was instrumental in achieving East Timor's independence from Indonesian rule.

When East Timor finally voted to become independent he entered the interim administration as economics minister, forging his reputation as a tough operator as chief negotiator over the rich petroleum resources in the sea between Australia and Timor.

The Prime Minister is the head of the Timor-Leste Government and is ultimately responsible to the people of Timor-Leste for policy development and the decisions taken by the government.

National Assembley

Politics: Unicameral Parliamentry System

Head of state of the East Timorese republic is the president, who is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and whose role is largely symbolic, though he is able to veto some legislation. Following legislative elections, the president appoints as prime minister the leader of the majority party or majority coalition. As head of government the prime minister presides over the Council of State or cabinet.

The unicameral Timorese parliament is the National Parliament or Parlamento Nacional, whose members are also elected by popular vote to a five-year term. The number of seats can vary from a minimum of 52 to a maximum of 65, though it exceptionally has
88 members at present, due to this being its first term of office. The Timorese constitution was modelled on that of Portugal. The country is still in the process of building its administration and governmental institutions.

The National Parliament consists of 88 members who were elected on 30 August 2001 to the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly’s directive was to develop a Constitution for East Timor. With the approval of the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly has been transformed into a National Parliament for up to five years. The National Parliament will be responsible for making laws on issues concerning the country’s domestic and foreign policy, as well as other functions set out in the Constitution. Specific objectives of the National Parliament are as follows:

  • 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 constitutionally enacted laws, transparency within the public administration, and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

The Parliament function is supported by the Secretariat that it may provides right services to the Members. The services of the Secretariat include the list of the deliberations of the Parliament and the administration on the legislative agenda.


Marí bim Amude Alkatiri is the first Prime Minister of an internationally recognized Timor-Leste. Before entering politics, he was a chartered surveyor, and lived in exile during Indonesian occupation.

As the Chief of Government, he is supported by the Minister in the Presidency of the Council of Ministers and by the Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs. The following services and bodies are directly under the Prime Minister. He is also responsible for those that are not formally integrated in a Ministry or Secretariat of State such as the Timor Sea Office and the Government Information Office:

  • National Service for State Security
  • Inspector-General
  • Office of the Advisor for Human Rights
  • Office of the Advisor for Image and Social Communications
  • Office of the Advisor of Promotion of Equality
  • Capacity Development Coordination Unit
  • The Banking and Payments Authority

The Prime Minister is responsible for the defence and implementation of budget statements and government policy generally. Although he consults widely and must seek the approval from the Council of Ministers, he is ultimately responsible for all government decisions.

Government Ministries

Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation
Ministry of Internal Affairs
Ministry of Justice
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Ministry of Health
Ministry of Transport & Communication
Ministry of Education & Culture
Ministry of Planning & Finance
Ministry of Development
Ministry of Internal Administration
Ministry of Public Works
Ministry of the Labor and Solidarity
Ministry of Defense




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