From Sun May 28 21:25:41 2000
Date: Sat, 27 May 2000 22:27:47 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: POLITICS-SURINAME: New Front Coalition Wins Elections
Article: 97100
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New Front Coalition Wins Elections

By Bert Wilkinson, IPS, 26 May 2000

PARAMARIBO, May 26 (IPS)—The people of Suriname, never more worried about declining living standards, have voted in a new administration giving it all but one seat needed to run the country.

The four-party, multi-racial New Front grouping won 33 of the 51 seats available in the National Assembly in Thursday's elections, it was announced Friday.

The result, observers say, signalled a return to the older parties who many of the 160,000-plus Surinamese who voted Thursday hoped would be able to halt the long economic slide of this Dutch-speaking nation located on the north-eastern coast of the South American continent.

The Front needs just one more seat to enable it to govern with real authority and avoid the deadlock that the last government, itself a coalition, faced because it needed the support of the opposition to rule. The winners say they will bring smaller parties with two or three seats into the government to ensure an even more comfortable parliamentary majority.

The Front also needs two-thirds of the Assembly vote to ensure its choice of president becomes head of state. It is the parliament, rather than the general electorate, that elects the president.

With its 33 seats, the Front won three times as many as its closest rival, the Millennium Combination coalition led by former military strongman Desi Bouterse. The Combination won nine seats in Thursday's polls, making it the strongest opposition party.

It is Bouterse's National Democratic Party (NDP) which forms the backbone of the Combination. The NDP had won the majority of seats—16—in the last election in 1996. It took the party three months to cobble together a ruling coalition which spent the next four years in office unable to do much because of its make-up and the need for opposition support.

We are very disappointed with the results, but there were many forces against us from the very beginning and this never made for a comfortable relationship, said outgoing Transport, Communications and Tourism Minister Dick De Bie.

De Bie was obviously referring to crippling street demonstrations last year that forced President Jules Wijdenbosch to call elections a year early to quell mounting tension in the country. The protests were organised by labour, the business community, opposition parties and even non governmental organisations (NGOs) who were upset that the national currency, the guilder, was declining rapidly and pushing up food prices.

The New Front win, many Surinamese say, gives the country fresh hope for the future. That future will undoubtedly contain development aid from The Netherlands from which this country of 435,000 people gained independence in 1975.

More than 800 million dollars in grant aid and loan guarantees are available to the incoming administration once it is able to come up with a draft development plan that would form the basis of discussions.

The money is part of a larger package of development aid the Dutch government had promised Suriname on independence. It was suspended, however, during the military reign of Bouterse who staged coups in 1980 and 1990.

The Dutch also cut off aid to the outgoing administration.

We never agreed with the policies of the government, that is a fact. And we were never allowed to do what we used to do in terms of aid. The government set conditionalities for meeting with us to discuss the aid and so we stopped it, said Dutch Ambassador Ruud Treffers.

Critics of the outgoing administration had made much of the fact that the aid suspension would have continued if the five-party Combination had been given a second term in office, but Treffers says the money is there if a plan is proposed.

Many potential voters sampled by IPS this week had made it a key voting issue, pointing to the fact that the country gets practically nothing from the United States and Britain. This left Suriname only with aid from its former coloniser or to look to as far afield as the Arab world for assistance.

Bouterse meanwhile, has had to shelve any plans he may have had to run for the presidency and content himself with heading up the opposition. Besides, he has legal problems in his future. He is currently appealing before a Dutch Court his conviction and 16- year jail term for international drug trafficking. The conviction was handed down last year.

He may also face an enquiry into the 1982 murders of 15 prominent opponents of his military regime.

Then again The Hague has not ruled out an attempt to charge him for human rights abuses and other crimes under the Pinochet precedent.

Bouterse's legal troubles, however, are not what is captivating the Surinamese population now. The next great political battle—who will become the country's president—has already taken centre-stage in the capital Paramaribo.

Electoral laws bar authorities from moving to pick a president until 30 days after the elections. This period is used to confirm the results and to accommodate challenges, but from all appearances none is forthcoming.

Former President and leader of the National Party of Suriname (NPS) Ronald Venetiaan says he is determined to make another run for the top post. His Afro-dominated party, which won 16 seats Thursday, is now the most powerful in the country. But other New Front members say they have other, non-political figures in mind for the post.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) which sent observers said it had no problems with the conduct or fairness of the polls and so did French parliamentarians and the European Union monitoring team.