The area we now know as East Timor was probably first occupied by Australoid and Melanesian people.
The first European settlers were the Portuguese who arrived sometime in the 16th Century. By 1702 the Portuguese had declared the area a colony and called it Portuguese Timor. Meanwhile the Dutch had been settling in the west of the island and in 1859 Portugal ceded the west of the island to the Dutch, that part of the island became the Dutch East Indies with the border formally ratified in 1916.
In World War II the Japanese occupied the island, although they faced very stiff resistance from the locals which cost many lives. After the war Portuguese Timor was returned to Portugal but by then there were calls for independence which were led by the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, known as Fretilin.
In 1974 Portugal announced that it would grant independence to its colonies. Before the Portuguese had concluded the handover a coup by the Indonesian backed Timorese Democratic Union took place.
On 28th November 1975 Fretelin took control of the capital Dili and declared Independence. On 6th December 1975 the Indonesians invaded and annexed the country, creating the 27th province.
Fretelin and others fought the Indonesians until, in May 1998, President B.J. Habibie agreed to hold a referendum on independence. The vote took place on 30th August 1999 and 78.5% voted in favour of independence.
Fighting between pro and anti-independence forces took place until, on 15th September 1999, a United Nations (UN) led multinational force took control.
On 20th October 1999 the Indonesian House of representatives reluctantly approved and East Timor was transferred to the control of the UN.
On 30th August 2001 the first free elections for the 88 seat Constituent Assembly were held, with Fretelin winning 55 seats. The main role of the new parliament was to draft and pass a new constitution.
In 2002 the Fretelin candidate Xanana Gusmão won the election with 82.69% of the vote and on 15th May 2002 the UN handed over the country to its new government. East Timor became the 191st member of the United Nations.
In 2007 further elections were held and Fretilin were again the largest party, but this time with 21 of 65 seats in the National Parliament. In the presidential election José Manuel Ramos-Horta won, taking 69.18% of the vote in the second round. Although the second largest party after the election, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) were able to put together a coalition and after weeks of discussions and disputes President Ramos-Horta asked the CNRT to form a government with Xanana Gusmão as prime minister.
Throughout its period of independence East Timor has remained a fragile state with deep divisions which, perhaps, only time can heal.
The President is elected for a five year term by popular vote and is permitted a maximum of two terms.
The unicameral National Parliament can have from 52 to 65 members who will serve for a five year term.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places East Timor at joint 101st out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 35 (where 100 is least corrupt).