Bouterse coalition close to majority

By Mark McGowan
in Paramaribo

The Mega Combination coalition led by controversial former President Desi Bouterse was tipped to win Suriname’s polls after elections yesterday and was last night close to a majority of seats.

Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP), which teamed up with three other parties to establish the Mega Combination coalition, was well ahead in the pre-elections polls, and initial reports coming out of yesterday’s elections suggested that there would be no late surprises. The polls had shown the Mega Combination coalition ahead of the New Front Alliance, led by incumbent President Ronald Venetiaan and Carl Breevaldt’s Democracy, Development and Unity party.

Bouterse, who is a convicted drug trafficker, is particularly popular among young voters. Bouterse and 11 others are currently being tried in a military court on charges of murder, for the killing of 15 opponents while he was head of a military junta in 1982.

The elections were generally incident free and were conducted in a party-like atmosphere especially at the polling stations where the political leaders had to vote.

At about 6:45 pm, fifteen minutes before the scheduling closing of the polls, Bouterse arrived to cast his ballot at the Clevia School in Paramaribo, where several of his supporters had waited hours for his arrival.

As he filled his ballot, the large crowd which gathered shouted: “We want Bouta”, as he is popularly called before singing songs of affection. After voting, Bouterse greeted the throng of supporters which had gathered in the school compound and in the streets waving party flags and calling his name.

In a brief exchange with this newspaper shortly after casting his ballot, Bouterse said that should he assume office one of this first agenda items would be to begin dialogue with neighbouring countries to see how they could co-operate and work in the best interests of both countries. Regarding Guyana, Bouterse said that the governments of Guyana and Suriname had shared good relationships in the past, and he referred specifically to the 1980s.

As part of his campaign, Bouterse promised to build a bridge across the Corentyne River, and when asked about this, he indicated that this is an initiative he is interested in.  Questioned about the New River Triangle, Bouterse acknowledged that this was a controversial but did not say what his take on the matter is.

During the pre-elections campaign, Bouterse also spoke about building a highway from Suriname to Brazil and about building a bridge across the Maroni River, which separates his country from French Guiana.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, sometime after 10 am President Ronald Venetiaan and his wife arrived at the sports centre in Oliveira, Paramaribo to vote.  The arrival of Venetiaan was signalled by a band of musicians who played gospel songs as the incumbent danced his way into the polling station flanked by supporters of the National Party of Suriname (NPS), which he leads.  The NPS partnered with three other parties for yesterday’s election. After mingling with party members for a short while, Venetiaan and his wife departed in the Presidential vehicle.

Assistant Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Ambassador Albert Ramdin was present observing elections. Ramdin, a Surinamese by birth, stressed that he was not part of the official OAS Observer Mission set up to oversee these elections.  Nevertheless, Ramdin said that from what he saw, the people of Suriname seemed committed to democracy. He said too that this democracy was expressed in an environment of respect, tolerance and friendship. He said that in a multi-ethnic society this is what is needed. “I hope that countries where this is not happening, [that they] would take cue of this… would learn from this, that you can have an elections without tensions, without fear, without intimidation and still have a credible election,” Ramdin said.

Yesterday’s elections saw nine parties contesting for 51 seats in the National Assembly and 752 seats in the Regional Council. The parties also vied for 116 seats in the District Council, which are awarded based on performances in the elections for the Regional Council. The President is elected based on which party has the most seats in the National Assembly, after the various coalitions in the House are taken into consideration.

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