Xanana Gusmao, the prime minister of East Timor and the country’s first president from 2002 to 2007, resigned the office of prime minister on Friday. Gusmao is stepping down before a government restructuring that is expected to take place next week. Before his political career, Gusmao was a guerilla leader and icon in East Timor’s path to independence from Indonesia in 2002. He has since enjoyed a 13 year career leading East Timor.
Gusmao’s resignation was announced by a government statement. “Recently the prime minister encouraged all members of government to work calmly in this time of transition until the new government is sworn in,” the statement said. According to the Associated Press, the move did not come as a surprise; Gusmao had told Timorese lawmakers that he would resign ahead of a restructuring. An anonymous adviser to the former president who spoke to the press noted that Gusmao’s resignation was in part motivated by a desire to pass the responsibility of governing East Timor to a new generation of political leaders.
The government statement added that the intention of the restructuring is to “reduce the size of the executive to create a more efficient and functional body focused on results, and allow opportunities for a younger generation of leaders to make a contribution to the nation.”
The Timorese government has yet to specify the terms of the restructuring although an announcement is expected next week. Reports regarding the government’s most recent proposal suggest that the cabinet will be slashed down to 34 ministers from a current total of 55. Additionally, the new cabinet will include members of the opposition, leading to a more balanced and inclusive government. Gusmao, additionally, will likely stay on as a minister in the new cabinet. Current media reports do not suggest that Gusmao intends to retire from politics altogether.
Gusmao’s departure could derail the government restructuring process as fissures will likely emerge from the inclusion of opposition politicians in the new cabinet. Gusmao is widely regarded as a unifying figure in Timorese politics and has been involved in resolving numerous domestic crises. According to analysts that spoke to SBS, Gusmao’s resignation and the subsequent restructuring may be aimed at “getting rid of ministers from Gusmao’s coalition who had been accused of corruption.”
After declaring independence from Portuguese colonial rule in late 1975, East Timor was invaded and occupied by Indonesia for 24 years. The Indonesian occupation was brutal and resulted in some 170,000 deaths. In 1999, following a referendum backed by the United Nations, East Timor overwhelmingly rejected a special autonomy status within Indonesia and instead opted for independence. The country acquired full independence and separation from Indonesia in 2002.