The Leaderboard: Xanana Gusmão

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão, recently sworn in as leader of Timor-Leste for a second time. Source: rtppt's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific. This post features Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

Who is he?

Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão is the current prime minister of Timor-Leste. He is one of the most prominent members of the country’s “1975 Generation,” the group of people who fought for Timorese independence against Indonesia from 1975 to 1999. He was arrested in 1992, before being freed and becoming speaker of the House in 1999 under the UN transitional government. Timor-Leste officially gained sovereignty in 2002 and Gusmão was elected its first president. Following the end of his term, he became president of the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor-Leste, CNRT. The party won the second-highest number of seats in the 2007 elections and formed a governing coalition with Gusmão as prime minister.

Why is he in the news?

Gusmão’s CNRT won 30 seats in parliamentary elections July 11 — just shy of the 33 needed to hold a majority and five more than the opposition Fretilin party. Gusmão reached out to the two other parties that won seats, Partido Democrático and Frenti Mudansa, on July 15 to form a coalition government. The exclusion of Fretilin resulted in demonstrations and riots in the capital, Dili, until the party’s leadership announced it was ready to play the role of opposition party. Gusmão was sworn in as Timor-Leste’s prime minister July 30 for another five years.

What can we expect from him?

Gusmão now enjoys a stronger position than during his last term. He had a falling out with previous president José Ramos-Horta over accusations of corruption, but has a strong relationship with recently elected president Taur Matan Ruak. His CNRT party also gained 12 seats in parliament, giving it a much stronger mandate. This will allow Gusmão to continue the achievements of his previous term, and to do so even more effectively.

His last term saw dramatic improvements in stabilizing the country and poverty alleviation, but key areas like child malnutrition remain problematic. Improvements have largely been funded by the Petroleum Fund, Timor-Leste’s primary source of funding for nearly all government activity, but Gusmão has been criticized for withdrawing from the fund at levels that are not sustainable. Because the fund relies on oil and gas reserves which have a limited lifespan, proper management of the money is crucial for Timor-Leste’s long term success, but it is by no means guaranteed under the current government.


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