By Marvin Hokstam
PARAMARIBO--Political parties in Suriname held their final rallies on Saturday night, ahead of the general elections on Monday, May 25. As things were left on the eve of the voting, President Desi Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) appears dead straight opposite the six opposition parties that formed the V7 coalition.
At the kick-off of the campaigns earlier this year, no fewer than 25 parties had signed up to compete in the elections. While coalitions have since been formed, splits and defections have also since occurred, leaving tomorrow’s election scene four parties that enter individually and six political combinations. Bouterse’s NDP is one of the individual contenders, facing the mammoth V7 coalition led by Chandrika Santokhi. Both political giants turned their closing rallies into huge parties Saturday night; both appeared sure of victory, but both nonetheless urged the electorate to come out and give them their votes.
Bouterse said his party existed to serve. “We do not work for the NDP, but for the people,” Bouterse said. He said his party has grown into a movement that has shown so much prowess in the past five years of leading Government that it lured over members from opposing parties.
“It is a pleasure to work shoulder to shoulder with people who came from different ideologies. The past five years were not easy, but we stand here today, ready to serve five more years. We are servants of the people,” he said. NDP’s wrap-up rally was held at OCER, the party’s headquarters.
Speaking at a rally at Grun Dyari, the headquarters of V7 member party NPS, Santokhi reached out to parents, urging them to not let their children make the mistake of voting for NDP. He said he wants a better Suriname for the people of tomorrow, the youth. “We promise that we will invest in human capital. We want a strong Government. We want strong leadership,” he said.
The former police commissioner who also served as Justice Minister said V7 is coming with hurricane-force winds. “You may check with the meteorological office; they’ll tell you that there’s a storm coming that will blow all the mess away. A new wind will blow in this country. Just give us the chance,” he said.
The opposition leader said the work that was put in during five years in the opposition benches should serve as proof that V7 will govern correctly. “We are ready to take over.”
Here and now
More than 350,000 registered voters received their voting cards over the past months. Recent polls say that Bouterse, a former army sergeant who ruled as military leader after a coup d’état in 1980 and became president in 2010 after democratic elections, is favourite, especially amongst the young voters. This is notwithstanding an 11-year drug sentence he received in absentia from a Dutch court in 1999 and despite the fact that he is widely held responsible for the December 8, 1982, murders of 15 of his opponents.
A charismatic speaker, his popularity rose in his first term of Government, due to measures like doubling the old age pension and the Government child support. His Government also built several thousand affordable homes and introduced a free healthcare insurance scheme for children of 16 and up. Young voters queried by Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond indicated that they care less about his past than about the here and now.
But several of Bouterse’s opponents including Santokhi have expressed concern that Bouterse’s governing is steering the country toward a financial crisis. Anthony Caram, for instance, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Aruba who is now an economics professor at the Anton de Kom University of Suriname, hinted that Government expenditures have increased exponentially while there is not sufficient income to offset this. “The financial risks that these policies bring are too large. We can still turn the tide. If we wait too long we will have no other chance but to take drastic measures,” he said.
At least four international organisations have confirmed their presence in the elections in Suriname. According to electoral authorities, the list of observers includes 11 members of the Caribbean Community, 20 from the Union of South American Nations, 24 from the Organization of American States and five from the European Union.
Polling stations open at 7:00am. There are 623 stations posted throughout the country. Voters can cast their ballots until 7:00pm. The Central Voting Bureau CHS has said that it expects to be able to announce preliminary results at 10:00pm. The winner will be declared by 3:00am Tuesday.