Opposition Leads in Suriname Vote

By Bert Wilkinson, Associated Press, Friday 26 May 2000, 10:41 PM ET

PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP)—Voters rejected the ambitious development plans of President Jules Wijdenbosch and all but handed control of the National Assembly to the labor-backed opposition, according to election returns Friday.

With 78 percent of votes from Thursday's election counted, the New Front, which includes labor unions and has the support of former President Ronald Venetiaan, had a projected 33 seats in the 51-seat National Assembly—one shy of the two-thirds majority needed to elect a president.

The ruling coalition selects the president in Suriname. The New Front, which governed this Dutch-speaking South American republic from 1991-96, led former dictator Desi Bouterse's Millennium Combination.

The coalition hasn't named its presidential candidate, and Suriname's complex election law mandates a 30-day waiting period before the results are certified. But Venetiaan, who served as president in the early '90s, is a leading candidate.

We worked hard to win and we hope that we will get it, said Fred Derby, leader of the Suriname Labor Party, part of the New Front.

Bouterse's Millennium Combination was projected to win only 11 seats, according to Suriname's elections council—a poor showing that reflected many voters' reluctance to back a man who is currently fighting a cocaine trafficking conviction in the Netherlands.

The United States and United Nations have identified Suriname as a growing transit point for drug trafficking to European and U.S. markets, gun smuggling and money laundering.

The nationalist Bouterse, who led two coups in 1980 and 1990, has an Interpol warrant out for his arrest.

The platform led by incumbent Wijdenbosch, a former Bouterse ally, had just two projected seats.

The 60-year-old president called elections a year early to quell street protests demanding his resignation over the struggling economy, with inflation at 70 percent a year, and unemployment at 20 percent. Critics accuse him of spending in new infrastructure at the expense of education and health.