Timor-Leste coup attempt

There was an attempted coup in Timor-Leste (East Timor) yesterday. President Jose Ramos-Horta was shot and seriously wounded. Prime Minister Jose Alexandre Gusmao was also attacked in a separate incident, but managed to escape unharmed.

Timor-Leste has been independent since 2002. Gusmao served as President from 2002-2007, while Ramos-Horta was Prime Minister from 2006-2007 before being elected President. On the basis of the constitution, the prime minister has more powers than the president. Using Shugart and Carey’s categorisation, Timor-Leste has a premier-presidential form of semi-presidentialism.

The country has been classed as Partly Free by Freedom House for the period since independence with an aggregate score of 3 until 2007, when the score fell to 3.5. It has also been classed as an Electoral Democracy since 2002 by Freedom House. Polity have given a score of 6 to Timor-Leste from 2002-2004 inclusive. This corresponds to the upper range of the anocracy category i.e., a country that has many characteristics of a democracy but that remains fairly unstable.

There are a couple of useful articles specifically on semi-presidentialism in Timor-Leste. While modesty almost forbids, it doesn’t quite manage it, so I would recommend the chapter by Dennis Shoesmith in Robert Elgie and Sophia Moestrup (eds,), Semi-presidentialism Outside Europe, London: Routledge, 2007. Denis Shoesmith also has another article in Asian Survey, vol. 43, no. 2, 2003, pp. 231-252.

In addition, background information on the constitution can found in the article by Hillary Charlesworth in International Journal of Constitutional Law, vol. 1, no. 2, 2003, pp. 325-344. There is an article on the 2006 crisis, which was a precursor to yesterday’s coup attempt. This is by James Cotton in Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 61, no. 4, pp. 455-470. There are also a couple of articles on the first elections in the country. These are by Anthony L. Smith in Journal of Democracy, vol. 15, no. 2, 2004, pp. 145-159, and by Dwight Y. King in Asian Survey, vol. 43, no. 5, 2003, pp. 745-757.

1 thought on “Timor-Leste coup attempt

  1. Damien Kingsbury

    Timor-Leste does not have a semi-presidential system, including under the premier-presidential model. Under Timor-Leste’s constitution, the executive function of the president is circumscribed to the granting of pardons for criminal offences. All other powers (‘competencies’) are in ‘consultation with’ or ‘following’ the prime minister. Dennis Shoesmith argued that Timor-Leste was a semi-presidential system based not on the constitutional powers of the president but what he understood to be the practice of the presidency, which on a couple of occasions did exceed its constitutional authority. The president was similarly rebuked by the prime minister on the last two occasions.


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