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  East Timor::    

8 50 S, 125 55 E
20 May 2002
15,007 sq km


Government and politics

The 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, although they are able to veto some legislation. Following elections, the president appoints as 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 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 East Timorese constitution was modelled on that of Portugal. The country is still in the process of building its administration and governmental institutions.

Ethnic groups

Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other 11%

The History


Timor was originally populated as part of the human migrations that have shaped Australasia more generally. It is believed that survivors from three waves of migration still live in the country. The first is described by anthropologists as people of the Australoid type, who arrived about 40,000 years ago and form the principal indigenous groups of New Guinea and Australia. Around 3000 BC, a second migration brought Melanesians, who later continued eastward and colonized nearly the whole Pacific Ocean, and possibly associated with the development of agriculture on Timor. Finally, proto-Malays arrived from south China and north Indochina. The mountainous nature of the country meant that these groups could remain separate, and explains why there is so much linguistic diversity in East Timor today.

Timor was incorporated into Chinese and Indian trading networks of the 14th Century as an exporter of aromatic sandalwood, slaves, honey and wax. Early European explorers report that the island had a number of small chiefdoms or princedoms in the early 16th century. One of the most significant is the Wehale kingdom in central Timor, with its capital at Laran, West Timor, to which the Tetum, Bunaq and Kemak ethnic groups were aligned.

The Portuguese

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in the area, in the 16th century. They established outposts in Timor as well as in several of the surrounding islands. However, during the House of Habsburg's rule over Portugal, all the surrounding outposts were lost and eventually came under Dutch control by the mid 17th century. The area became a colony in 1702 with the arrival of the first governor from Lisbon. In the 18th century, the Netherlands gained a foothold on the Western half of the island, and was formally given West Timor in 1859 through the Treaty of Lisbon. The definitive border was established by the Hague Treaty of 1916, and it remains the international boundary between the successor states East Timor and Indonesia.

In late 1941 Portuguese Timor was briefly occupied by Dutch and Australian troops, who aimed to thwart the Japanese invasion of the island. The Portuguese Governor protested the invasion, and the Dutch forces returned to the Dutch side of the island. When the Japanese landed and drove the small Australian force out of Dili, the mountainous interior became the scene of a guerrilla campaign, known as the Battle of Timor, waged by Allied forces and Timorese volunteers against the Japanese. The struggle resulted in the deaths of between 40,000 and 70,000 Timorese. Following the end of the war, Portuguese control was reinstated.

The process of decolonisation in Portuguese Timor began in 1974, following the change of government in Portugal in the wake of the Carnation Revolution. Owing to political instability and more pressing concerns with decolonisation in Angola and Mozambique, Portugal effectively abandoned East Timor, which unilaterally declared itself independent on November 28, 1975. Nine days later, it was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces before the declaration could be internationally recognised.

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