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article imageSuriname elects strongman's party: partial results

By Ranu Abhelakh (AFP)     May 26, 2015 in Politics

Suriname has given President Desi Bouterse's party an absolute majority in parliament, according to partial election results Tuesday, consolidating the ex-dictator and convicted drug trafficker's grip on power.

Voters gave Bouterse's National Democratic Party (NDP) 27 seats in the 51-member National Assembly, according to the partial results.

Bouterse, 69, will have to muster another seven votes to guarantee his own re-election -- the president is chosen by a two-thirds majority of parliament.

But the NDP appears on track for the biggest win by a single party in Suriname's history, enabling it to govern alone for the first time in a country used to coalition rule.

Full results are expected later Tuesday, and will be officially ratified in about two weeks.

Surinam's President Desi Bouterse is seen during elections in Paramaribo  Surinam on May 25  20...
Surinam's President Desi Bouterse is seen during elections in Paramaribo, Surinam on May 25, 2015
Louis Alafaisie, AFP

If the results are upheld, Monday's polls will probably enable Bouterse to cast off his awkward alliance with one-time nemesis Ronnie Brunswijk, a former guerrilla leader who fought a civil war against Bouterse's military government in the 1980s.

Watching the results as they came in, NDP members waving their party's purple flag claimed victory and celebrated with fireworks and dancing.

NDP official Andre Misiekaba said the strong showing would resolve deadlock in parliament, enabling the party to continue its popular expansion of social welfare programs and infrastructure spending.

"It can never happen again that we as lawmakers cannot hold a meeting for four months due to the quorum," he told AFP.

- Dictator turned president -

Bouterse, a two-time coup leader and former international fugitive, has long loomed large over Suriname, whether in his military fatigues and sunglasses, his sharp presidential suits or the Che Guevara T-shirts he favors as leisurewear.

He seized power in 1980 as a 34-year-old sergeant major.

His regime put down two counter-coups and rounded up and executed 15 opponents in 1982, an event known as the "December killings."

A Surinamese woman votes (R) at a polling station during the general elections in Paramaribo on May ...
A Surinamese woman votes (R) at a polling station during the general elections in Paramaribo on May 25, 2015
Louis Alfaisie, AFP

He stepped down in 1987 under international pressure, but returned to power in 1990 in a second, bloodless coup.

After leaving power a second time, he was indicted and court-martialed for the December killings, but his coalition passed a controversial amnesty law in 2012 that aborted the trial.

His top rival for the presidency is Chan Santokhi, a former police commissioner who led the investigation of the December killings and has vowed to repeal the amnesty law if elected.

- 'Disappointed' opposition -

Santokhi heads the V7, a six-party opposition coalition that took 17 seats in Monday's vote, according to the partial results.

"We have campaigned to get a governable majority and we have not secured this, which to us is a disappointment. The voters have spoken and we have to respect that," Santokhi said.

Surinam’s opposition leader Chandrikapersad Santokhi talks to journalists as he arrives at a polli...
Surinam’s opposition leader Chandrikapersad Santokhi talks to journalists as he arrives at a polling station in Lelydorp, Wanica, Surinam on May 25, 2015
Louis Alafaisie, AFP

The third main group in the election, ex-guerrilla leader Brunswijk's Alternative Combination alliance, took five seats.

Dutch-speaking Suriname, the smallest country in South America, has a population of about half a million people with roots in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

It was colonized by the British and Dutch and gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975.

The Bouterse family's run-ins with the law have added to the country's reputation for drug running, money laundering and graft.

The Netherlands convicted Bouterse in absentia of cocaine smuggling in 1999, but he remained free because Suriname does not extradite its citizens.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court rejected his third bid to have the conviction overturned.

In March, a US court sentenced his son Dino, who had served as his father's top counter-terrorism official, to 16 years in prison on charges of trying to aid and arm Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and conspiring to import cocaine to the United States.

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