Rui Araujo is a leading member of Timor-Leste’s opposition Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) party and an adviser in the Finance Ministry. He was health minister from 2001 to 2007 and also served as a vice prime minister. Araujo was trained as a doctor in New Zealand and practiced medicine for two decades before entering government. From 1985 to 1996, he acted as a messenger and medic for the FRETILIN-led resistance movement against Indonesian occupation.
Why is he in the news?
President Taur Matan Ruak on February 10 picked Araujo to replace Xanana Gusmão as Timor-Leste’s next prime minister. He is expected to be sworn in by February 16.
Gusmão, 68, chose to step down before his term ends in 2017 to a new leadership generation to take power. The former guerilla leader has served as either president or prime minister since independence in 2002. His ruling Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor party proposed Araujo be named prime minister, with the support its smaller coalition partners, and his selection will bring FRETILIN into a new unity government. Gusmão will serve as investment minister in Araujo’s new cabinet.
What can we expect from him?
Araujo, 50, is enormously popular; he won a public opinion poll in 2014 as the top choice to succeed Gusmão. At the head of a new unity government, he will be well-placed to help Timor-Leste put the highly contentious and often violent political struggles of the last decade behind it.
Araujo’s major focus will be on diversifying the economy and reducing poverty. Despite steady economic growth fueled by significant offshore oil and gas, half of the population of 1.2 million still lives in poverty. With Timor-Leste’s major oil and gas field, Bayu Undan, projected to run dry by 2024, the country must reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons, which account for 80 percent of gross domestic product. To that end, the government has established a sovereign wealth fund with the proceeds from hydrocarbon sales, but it will need to grow significantly in the years ahead. With his technocratic background, Araujo appears well-suited for these challenges.