East Timor independence fighter Xanana Gusmao was inaugurated as prime minister of Southeast Asia’s youngest democracy on Saturday, marking his return to power almost a decade after he left the government.
More than two decades after independence, the country is still struggling to develop its economy, with more than 40 percent of its 1.3 million citizens living in poverty.
“My vision for the people is for them to be more prosperous, educated, qualified and innovative, to create more job opportunities and to prioritise productive sectors so we can build a better economy,” Gusmao said during his inauguration speech.
His National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) led with 41.6 percent of votes in the parliamentary election in late May, while the party’s main rival and incumbent coalition leader Fretilin got 25.7 percent, according to the electoral commission.
The 77-year-old former rebel leader on Saturday also vowed to fix the country’s laws and develop a gas pipeline project.
“The government will prioritise reviewing the judicial system as well as development, starting from the villages, also to bring the Greater Sunrise pipeline to Timor Leste,” he said.
The former Portuguese colony’s budget is heavily dependent on oil revenues, but earnings from existing fossil fuel projects are soon expected to run dry.
The new government will need to decide on options to develop the Greater Sunrise project, which aims to tap trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, with Australia or China as potential partners.
East Timor held its fifth parliamentary election on 21 May, which coincided with the day the country celebrated its 21st independence anniversary.
Gusmao’s CNRT secured 31 of 65 contested parliamentary seats, short of an outright majority, and had to form an alliance with the Democratic Party to form a government.
Gusmao spent years leading the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) military wing in the fight for independence against Indonesia.
The charismatic leader in 2002 became the country’s first president after independence, ending 24 years of occupation by Indonesia.
In 2007, he founded the CNRT. That year he became prime minister and served in that post until 2015, when he resigned, saying it was time for a younger generation of leaders.
While he retreated behind the scenes, analysts say he continued pulling strings, and was often seen as a kingmaker in the country.