Opposition parties in the Caribbean Community nation of Suriname have asked for a special meeting with parliamentary speaker Jenny Geerlings-Simons to discuss the future relationship between President Dési Bouterse and the assembly in the wake of his recent jail sentence for mass murder.
Bouterse, 74, is seeking a third consecutive, five-year term in general elections next May. A special court earlier this month sentenced him to 20 years in prison for being the mastermind of the December 1982 mass executions of 15 government opponents.
Prosecutors allege that the 15 were rounded up from their homes or detention cells, taken to a downtown colonial era Dutch fort and executed by firing squads because they were plotting with The Netherlands and other western nations to reverse a February 1980 that had brought Bouterse and the military to power in Suriname.
The court has also sentenced about half a dozen mostly ex-soldiers to varying periods in prison for their role in the executions but reserved the harshest and biggest sentence for Bouterse as he was basically functioning as president and military strongman at the time. Bouterse has perennially denied passing any execution orders but said he bears political responsibility as he was in charge at the time.
The combination of about six parties including the Hindustani VHP and the middle class National Party of Suriname (NPS) are among those asking for a meeting with the speaker to determine how the now convicted head of state and the parliament will function now that the trial has basically ended. Bouterse has vowed to appeal the sentence allowing him to run again for president as the leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP).
“There is a changed situation now. We want to know what the relationship between the president and parliament now looks like. If the consultation is not satisfactory, we request an emergency debate. The constitution does not state what should happen to a president who has a criminal record,” said VHP Leader Chan Santokhi in an interview with a Dutch newspaper.
The parties have hinted at the possibility of an effort to amend the constitution to tighten loopholes in the constitution as the trial and sentence now offer parliamentarians no solutions as to the way forward. In other countries, they argue, a convicted president would have had to resign. Not so in Suriname and the fear is that Bouterse will remain a free man, run again and possibly win a majority of 26 of the 51 seats to form the government.
His attorney, Irwin Kanhai has already given broad hints about Bouterse and the NDP’s mindset by reminding all and sundry that appeals in Suriname take a minimum of six to 10 years to be heard. If that is the case, Bouterse will by then be in his 80s.
As the parties ask for the parliamentary meeting, the 37th anniversary of the December 8th killings was observed last weekend with a special Catholic Church service, wreath layings and speeches by surviving relatives.
As expected, many hailed the courage of the court in handing down the sentence, recalling the horrors of one of the toughest periods in Surinamese history.
The 15 had included several journalists, clergymen, academics, labor leaders and rebel soldiers who had previously attempted their own counter coup months earlier.
The court had handed down the sentence while Bouterse was on a state visit to China and Africa. He returned to the country a day after to a rousing welcome from supporters, warning that the judgment might well backfire in the face of his political enemies as it will certainly unify NDP supporters and bring apathetic supporters to voting booths for the May 25, 2020 general elections.