It is almost now a certainty that a brand new government will run the Caribbean Community nation of Suriname for the next five years following general elections on May 25th that saw voters denying former military strongman Desi Bouterse a third consecutive term.
In fact, Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP), dropped an astonishing 10 parliamentary seats to walk away with 16 as voters punished the party for a poor economy, rising inflation, a declining currency and for the scandal surrounding the theft of $200 million from a special central bank account earlier this year.
Critics say his NDP, for decades the largest and most powerful political force in the Dutch speaking country of about 580,000, was punished for becoming arrogant and for being too slow in correcting major wrongs in the society, including the disappearance of the money from the central bank.
The NDP will therefore most likely be replaced by a four-party coalition led by the Indo-dominated Hindustani VHP party with 20 seats, supported by ABOP, a growing political outfit supported largely by Suriname’s Maroon population in the southeast near the French Guiana border and two other smaller parties. ABOP has moved from four seats in the last parliament to nine, while the VHP increased its tally from nine to 20 as voters viewed it as the best option to replace the multiracial NDP. Chan Santokhi, the presidential candidate of the VHP and a former police chief and justice minister, has been chosen by the coalition as the president while ABOP will get the vice presidency and the speakership of the 51-member assembly. Cabinet positions, ambassadors and other high offices will be proportionately shared among coalition representatives as has been the case in previous coalitions that had governed Suriname in recent decades.
At the weekend, the four parties signed the governing coalition agreement spelling out details as to how the incoming administration will function and who will get what as leaders asked the country to rally behind it as it tries to rebuild an economy that has been in a tailspin in recent years.
Suriname’s elections were the second of many scheduled in the 15-nation community this year. On March second, Guyanese voted for a new government but the declaration of results have been stymied by a controversial recount that will run for at least two more weeks, leaving the country without a functioning parliament and cabinet. On Friday, voters in the tiny Eastern Caribbean federation of St. Kitts and Nevis will vote for a new government while campaigning is being stepped up in Trinidad and Belize as these ready for fresh elections before year end. Others also scheduled are St. Vincent and the Dominican Republic which is not a bloc member.
“If the electorate says that the VHP will have the opportunity for the presidency, we as Surinamese must support this. I hereby ask everyone to support this, let us respect each other regardless of color, race or religion. We are Surinamese and let each other trust,” said former guerrilla leader and ABOP leader Ronnie Brunswijk. “Maybe there is fear on the other hand that we are going to do a witch hunt. We are not going to do that. We assure that we will not act rancidly. What we ask is that they respect the results of the elections. Let’s give confidence to the man who is chosen the people,” said Brunswijk at a joint weekend press conference.
Bouterse has asked for a recount in three key districts, arguing that the NDP could pick up two more seats and increase its influence and reach during upcoming negotiations for a president. A government needs 26 seats to win a majority but 34 votes to name a president. The coalition have 33 of the seats but most of the smaller parties which won one or two seats have vowed not to have anything to do with the NDP and could leave it out in the cold.
It is unclear what the future of Bouterse, 74, could be now that he will likely no longer be head of state. A court late last year sentenced him to 20 years in jail for the 1982 mass murders of 15 political opponents during military rule that had stemmed from a February 1980 coup. He has appealed the sentence.