Suriname's President Chan Santokhi and First Lady Mellisa Santokhi-Seenacherry
Suriname’s President Chan Santokhi and First Lady Mellisa Santokhi-Seenacherry arrive for a dinner at the Getty Villa during the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Thursday, June 9, 2022.
Associated Press/Jae C. Hong

Any signs that street protests in Suriname against poor governance, inflation, nepotism and corruption are abating were dashed this week when a slew of labor unions, political parties, nurses and teachers joined civil society leaders as authorities ordered the military to be prepared to support the police if the situation gets out of control.

Led by a group calling itself Team Organic, protestors have, for the second week, taken to the streets of Paramaribo, the capital of the Dutch-speaking nation demanding changes to the way the country is run, railing against nepotism, corruption and a string of other ills.

Chief among their demands are for First Lady Melissa Santokhi, wife of President Chan Santokhi, to step down from a number of state positions her husband has put her in including a seat on the board of the state’s oil company, Staatsolie among others. They also want Leo Brunswijk, brother of Vice-President Ronnie Brunswijk to do likewise as he is also sitting on several boards. Team Organic, political parties and labor unions say they note an increasing and unapologetic tendency of the coalition government to hand plum jobs, prime lands and state contracts to close friends and family of the governing elite, calling it lawless nepotism.

As protestors took the streets on Monday, the Indo-led VHP party, the main player in the coalition administration, accused the main opposition National Democratic Party (NDP) of former president and military strongman Desi Bouterse of doing all it can to stir unrest in the country of about 500,000 ahead of hearings of Bouterse’s appeal against a 20-year sentence for mass murder. The hearings commence on July 29 and they are linked to the December 1982 executions of 15 government opponents who were executed for allegedly collaborating with the west to reverse the coup. Bouterse has denied direct involvement.

“It is by no means a coincidence that certain figures who, under another regime, have bent or altered legal rules for political ends. It is also no coincidence that every time milestones of the 8th December criminal process are in sight, certain political parties are emphatically stirring to seriously disrupt the judicial criminal process, according to a press release from the VHP. For some time now, we have noticed that various influential figures within our society, sometimes subtly and sometimes openly, want to tamper with the foundation of the rule of law. The VHP calls on the government and society to uphold the rule of law,” the party noted.

Army Chief Lt. Col. Werner Kioe A Sen Monday night warned that while the army respects the right to protests and free speech, anarchy will not be tolerated. The Herald newspaper quoted him as saying that traffic has been blocked at various city points, Molotov cocktails thrown at or near VHP headquarters and government buildings. “We are also part of society and we also have to deal with the socio-economic conditions. However, we are forced to act as a security institution for the country and the people. No anarchy will do us any good.”

Attempts to forge talks with the group and cabinet have so far proved futile especially because authorities have not yet made good on promises to deal with the nepotism allegations coming from numerous levels of society.

As the demonstrations continued for a second straight week, the Surinamese dollar weakened against the US, slipping to nearly $25.00, three points lower than last week. The Star Online newspaper says the government has to act quickly because life is indeed hard in Suriname.

“The people have little faith in politicians, which is why the grievances are personally shouted out in the bright sun. People are having a very hard time and the government should alleviate that. There must be a meeting as soon as possible – preferably today – after the condition in black and white has been met to comply with three requirements. The counter move on the chessboard must ensure that the purple chess player (the opposition NDP) does not receive oxygen to advance on the battlefield. It’s time for a checkmate.”

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