by Ivan Cairo
PARAMARIBO, Suriname – For the eighth time since its independence in 1975, voters in Suriname are today electing a new government.
This follows Saturday night’s widely-expected announcement by incumbent president Desi Bouterse that he would be seeking re-election.
In a surprise move, however, Bouterse named Minister of Education Ashwin Adhin as his running mate before a gathering of thousands of National Democratic Party (NDP) supporters, who attended the party’s final rally.
“Even if you don’t want to, you will become the next Vice President”, Bouterse declared, while calling the visibly-stunned Adhin, who is also an NDC candidate, to the podium.
The polls opened here at 7AM and will close at 7PM. Bouterse’s NDP is seeking to secure 26 of the 51-seats in parliament and at least a two-thirds majority of 34 seats to be re-elected by the National Assembly.
However, the party which previously lost the general elections in 2000 and later forged a coalition government with several smaller parties before the arrangement fell apart, leaving only NDP and ABOP in power, has come under fierce attack in recent months.
The country’s political opposition has accused it of corruption, bad governance and wasting taxpayers’ money while Bouterse has been seeking to emphasize the NDP’s record of social development.
Under his stewardship, parliament in 2014 sanctioned a Minimum Wage Act for the first time. A Basic Health Insurance and a General Pension Scheme were also introduced. Government also canceled school tuition fees for elementary education, while deciding to pay medical insurance for citizens between 0 and 16 years and senior citizens from 60 years and up.
The former army officer and military dictator also initiated an ambitious housing programme seeing scores of locals allotted affordable housing and lots, increased old-age pensions and other social benefits.
However, the political campaign has been marred by personal attacks on candidates, resulting in several defamation lawsuits.
Bouterse himself took the former minister of Justice and Police, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, to court over claims surrounding his dictatorship of the Dutch-speaking Caribbean Community member state in the 80’s.
Just last week Krishna Hussainali-Mathoera, a former Commissioner of Police, also filed a lawsuit against Bouterse’s Vice President Rashied Doekhie over claims made against her.
In all, four coalitions and seven independent parties are in the race for the ballots of just over 350,000 registered voters. Partial results are expected as early as 10PM and full preliminary results early Tuesday.
If parliament fails to elect a president, the Head of State will be elected in the People’s Assembly by a simple majority.