Freedom in the World
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In February 2010, two dozen defendants were sentenced to prison terms for their roles in the2008 assassination attempt against Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão and President José Ramos-Horta. However, in August, Ramos-Hortapardoned and commuted the sentences of 23 of those convicted, along with several others who had been convicted in connection with civil unrest in 2006. The ruling coalition continued to weaken throughout the year, with one deputy prime minister resigning in September and another facing corruption charges in October.
Portugal abandoned its colony of East Timor in 1975, and Indonesia invaded when the leftist Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) declared independence. Over the next two decades, Fretilin’s armed wing, Falintil, waged a low-grade insurgency against the Indonesian army, which committed widespread human rights abuses as it consolidated control. Civil conflict and famine reportedly killed up to 180,000 Timorese during Indonesian rule.
International pressure on Indonesia mounted following the 1991 Dili massacre, in which Indonesian soldiers were captured on film killing more than 200 people. In 1999, 78.5 percent of the East Timorese electorate voted for independence in a referendum approved by Indonesian president B. J. Habibie. The Indonesian army’s scorched-earth response to the vote killed roughly 1,000 civilians, produced more than 250,000 refugees, and destroyed approximately 80 percent of East Timor’s buildings and infrastructure before an Australian-led multinational force restored order.
In 2001 East Timor elected a Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution. Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, a former head and chairman of Falintil until he broke from the party in 1988 to form a wider resistance coalition, won the presidency the following year. Independence was officially granted in May 2002. Fretilin, led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, won the country’s first local elections in 2004 and 2005.
A political crisis in 2006 erupted into widespread rioting and armed clashes with the police, leading to numerous deaths and the displacement of 150,000 people. Alkatiri was forced to resign in June.José Ramos-Horta, who was appointed to replace him, won the May 2007 presidential runoff election. Outgoing president Gusmão launched a new party, the National Congress for Timorese Construction (CNRT), to contest the June legislativeelections. Fretilin led with 21 of the 65 seats, but the CNRT, which had captured 18, joined smaller parties to form the Alliance of the Parliamentary Majority (AMP). The new coalition held 37 seats, and Ramos-Hortainvited it to form a government, with Gusmão as prime minister.
In 2008, former army major Alfredo Reinado was killed while leading a group of armed men in an unsuccessful attack against Gusmão and Ramos-Horta. Legal proceedings against the suspects, which were generally deemed fair and in conformity with human rights standards,concluded in March 2010 with the sentencing of 24 of the 28 defendants to between 9 and 16 years in prison for offenses ranging from the attempted murder of the head of statetothe illegal use of firearms. Whilean appeals court upheld the decision in June, in August President Ramos-Horta pardoned 23 of the convicted men.
The ruling AMP coalition continued to falter in 2010 amid ongoing corruption concerns. Deputy Prime Minister for State Administration Mário Carrascalão resigned in September following a series of public disagreements with Gusmão and after the cabinet removed his powers over government procurement. Deputy Prime Minister for Social Issues José Luis Guterres and Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa were indicted on corruption charges in October. A court later rejected the accusations against da Costa, while trial proceedings against Guterres had not begun by year’s end.
The country’s weak economy is fueled primarily by oil and gas revenue. In 2010, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) granted “compliance status” to East Timor, acknowledging that it had successfully undertaken public audits, published payments by companies to governments, and engaged in public consultation. However, despite oil reserves valued at over $6 billion, East Timor remained the poorest country in Southeast Asia, with an unemployment rate of about 50 percent and more than 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The country also has one of the highest aid-per-capita ratios in the world.
East Timor is an electoral democracy. The 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections were generally deemed free and fair, as were the 2009 local elections. The directly elected president is a largely symbolic figure, with formal powers limited to the right to veto legislation and make certain appointments. The leader of the majority party or coalition in the 65-seat, unicameral Parliament becomes the prime minister. The president and members of Parliament serve five-year terms, with the president eligible for a maximum of two terms. Fretilin, now in opposition, remains the single largest political party. Political outcomes are influenced more by personalities and old loyalties tied to the 1970s resistance movement than by policy issues.