Former President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse.
Former President of Suriname, Desi Bouterse.
Associated Press / Andres Leighton/File

A new political era could be spawned in the Caribbean Community nation of Suriname after voters on Monday decided to dispense with the National Democratic Party (NDP) of former military strongman Desi Bouterse, paving the way for a multiparty coalition led by the Indo-dominated Hindustani VHP party to run the country for the next five years.

Bouterse’s NDP which had been seeking a third consecutive term, stumbled at the proverbial tape, declining from 26 to 16 seats in the 51-member parliament, while watching the VHP move from nine to 20 as the NDP was weighed down by several withering scandals including the recent theft of $200 million from the country’s central bank. Voters say they had grown tired of NDP missteps and of its sometimes arrogant and dismissive responses to problems in the society. It was time for change.

The defeat of the NDP in the general elections now means that the VHP of former Police Chief and Justice Minister Chan Santokhi will most likely find it very easy to form a multiparty coalition with ABOP, a party supported largely by Maroons in the southeast near French Guiana, the middle class National Party of Suriname (NPS), the Javanese-supported Pertjajah Luhur (PL) and at least two other parties which won seats. The VHP and the NPS had collaborated in the past to form the New Front alliance which had run the country of about 580,000 for several terms. Both have already signaled plans to do so again with the NPS planning to throw in its four seats in the ring and ABOP which gained two seats to bring it to seven indicating likewise. PL won two seats. It had five seats in the last parliament and the NPS just two.

All of the above have made public vows not to make any alliance with the NDP as most of those like the ABOP which had in the past worked with the NDP in government walked away, vowing never to have a political link up again, complaining of domination and unprincipled political traits.

A party or alliance needs a majority of 26 seats to form a government and 34 to elect a president. This is where the situation could become tricky for Santokhi who had made a concerted effort dispel of widespread perception of the VHP as a racist party representing only Indo Surinamese. Any defections from the group could present problems. Santokhi’s efforts to form a racial umbrella appear to have paid off.

“It is very interesting that a new government is taking office. The opposition has been able to oust the allegedly powerful NDP,” Paul Somohardjo told local newspaper De Ware Tijd. “The VHP cannot do it alone. Together with the ABOP, we will support the VHP if requested.” ABOP and PL had formed a pre-election alliance.

To rub salt in its wounds, VHP executive Dew Sharman said that “the NDP is not an option for cooperation with the VHP. We indicated at an early stage that the NDP is not an option for cooperation,” he told the Herald publication.

NDP officials including Bouterse, 74 have largely kept out of sight since Monday. Like the VHP, the party was expecting 28 seats. Both fell way short.

Speculation was rife in Paramaribo, the capital, about the future of Bouterse as a court had sentenced him to 20 years in prison for the 1982 mass murders of 15 political opponents during military rule back in 1982. Remaining president to keep out of jail was a key political ambition of the former president. The NDP had run the country in the late 90s but was run out of ‘town’ by withering street protests due to overspending on two magnificent river bridges that remain the pride of the country. It lost in elections held before the end of the five years to the New Front.

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