JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — East Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao plans to step down in September so a younger generation can lead the tiny nation, his deputy said Thursday.
Vice Prime Minister Fernando La Samma De Araujo said the resistance leader just wants to be the father of the nation to oversee the administration as an observer.
De Araujo said the 67-year-old Gusmao has expressed his intention formally to both his cabinet ministers and the people. He did not explain why Gusmao has not spoken about his decision publicly.
“The decision is based on deep thought and reflection, and Xanana has been steady with his decision,” De Araujo said. “He just wants to be a father of the nation like Nelson Mandela and Lee Kuan Yew.”
Mandela, who died in December, was South Africa’s first black president, and Lee was Singapore’s first prime minister.
Former resistance leader Gusmao became the first post-independence president of East Timor and its fourth prime minister since August 2007.
“There are pros and cons among the people over his resignation, but I believe East Timorese people will understand and be able to get through the transitional period peacefully,” De Araujo said, noting that the country is currently stable.
Gusmao was elected to lead the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor in 1981 when the former Portuguese colony was under Indonesian occupation. He was arrested by Indonesian troops in 1992 but continued the independence struggle from prison in Jakarta.
He was then released following East Timor’s vote for independence in 1999. The half island nation of 1.1 million people voted overwhelmingly to end 24 years of brutal Indonesia occupation that had left more than 170,000 dead.
Some 1,500 other people were killed when withdrawing Indonesian soldiers and proxy militias went on a rampage and destroyed much of the infrastructure before the international community deployed U.N. peacekeepers and poured in billions of dollars.