Suriname's president loses election, leaves economic chaos

PARAMARIBO (Reuters) - Surinamese President Desi Bouterse, a former military ruler who has dominated the country’s politics in recent decades, lost last month’s national election, the country’s electoral authority said on Tuesday after three weeks verifying the vote.

FILE PHOTO: Suriname's President Desi Bouterse reacts after appearing in court, where he had been found guilty of murder in absentia for the 1982 execution of 15 activists, in Paramaribo, Suriname January, 22 2020. REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh/File Photo

Chan Santokhi, a former police commissioner and justice minister of the Progressive Reform Party, won a majority of votes and 20 seats in the 51-seat National Assembly in the May 25 election, ahead of Bouterse’s 16 seats.

Suriname’s economy collapsed under Bouterse, despite the recent discovery of vast oil reserves off the coast of the South American country, with a population of 575,000.

Santokhi says he will form a government with three other parties. The new National Assembly will be sworn in on June 29 and is expected to elect him as the new president.

Bouterse’s National Democratic Party lost after a court in November sentenced him to 20 years in prison for ordering the execution of 15 adversaries in the former Dutch colony who had spoken out against his seizure of power in a February 1980 coup.

Bouterse, 74, has avoided prison due to his presidential immunity. He has appealed the conviction and the court is to reconvene on June 30.

Additionally, in 1999, a Dutch court sentenced him to 11 years in prison for drug smuggling. Bouterse never served the sentence but can still be arrested in countries that have extradition treaties with the Netherlands.

Bouterse, asked on June 11 about media speculation that a new president would extradite him, said: “I don’t seek confrontation, but I don’t shy away from confrontation.”

Santokhi later told reporters that Suriname’s constitution forbids the extradition of its citizens.

Bouterse led Suriname through the 1980s as head of a military government, then assumed office again in 2010 and in 2015 secured re-election to another five-year term.

Reporting by Ank Kuipers; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Dan Grebler