Former dictator Bouterse’s political party gains advantage in Suriname election

By Arny Belfor, AP
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Former dictator’s party ahead in Suriname election

PARAMARIBO, Suriname — The political party of former dictator Desi Bouterse was the biggest winner in elections in Suriname, according to election results released Wednesday, as the convicted drug trafficker mounted a political comeback despite facing trial for the execution of 15 opponents in the 1980s.

Bouterse declined to say if he would try to return to the presidency — a process that would require creating alliances with other parties in the South American country.

Bouterse’s Mega Combination coalition won 23 of the 51 seats in parliament, according to preliminary results.

The president in Suriname is chosen by a two-thirds vote in parliament. Since no faction has that share itself, the parties must negotiate to choose a new leader and Cabinet.

Bouterse is chairman of the National Democratic Party, the largest opposition party, which held 15 seats in parliament before the vote. He boosted his following, primarily among young and poor people, with populist promises for more jobs and affordable housing.

The 64-year-old former military ruler expressed interest in the presidency in recent years, but he has not been clear about his intentions since the campaign began.

“I’m not thinking about that right now. If it happens, we will see in the near future,” Bouterse said as he cast his ballot Monday afternoon

The governing New Front coalition won 14 seats. President Ronald Venetiaan, who was not seeking a third consecutive term in the top job, has said his party will not work with Bouterse’s party as long as the former dictator is in control.

Observers with the Organization of American States said voting Tuesday was peaceful and reported no irregularities.

Bouterse seized control of Suriname in 1980, five years after it gained independence from the Netherlands. He stepped down under international pressure in 1987 and briefly seized power again in 1990.

In 1999, he was convicted in a Dutch court of trafficking cocaine from Suriname to the Netherlands, but he has avoided an 11-year prison sentence because both countries prohibit extradition of each others’ citizens.

Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Aad Meijer said there was no point speculating whether Bouterse will become president and said relations between the two countries will not be affected in any case.

“The relationship between the Netherlands and Suriname is not determined by victory or loss by a specific party in democratic elections,” Meijer said.

Bouterse and 11 others are standing trial on murder charges for the execution of 15 prominent political opponents in 1982. The trial is scheduled to resume at a naval base outside Paramaribo in June. Bouterse has denied any involvement, but he accepted political responsibility in a 2007 public apology.


Associated Press writer Toby Sterling contributed to this report from Amsterdam.

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