President Desi Bouterse, who was seeking a third term, could go to prison if he loses. According to the preliminary results, the main opposition under Chan Santokhi is poised for a historic victory.
Suriname's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) on Thursday called for a recount of votes following preliminary results of the country's general election. About 90% of the votes have been counted.
"There will be a protest," said the NDP's leader, President Desi Bouterse. "We are going to request a recount and ask that all the people can see who won and lost where."
Bouterse proposed that the recount be broadcast on television.
What happened in the election?
The Progressive Reform Party (VHP), led by former Justice Minister Chandrikapersad "Chan" Santokhi, is set to win 20 seats in Suriname's 51-seat Parliament. The NDP is likely to secure 16. Santokhi has called on the NDP to concede defeat.
Parliament will select the next president by August. Candidates require a two-thirds majority.
The VHP has started talks with two opposition parties, ruling out an alliance with the NDP.
Four opposition parties have raised concerns about vote irregularities.
The elections in Suriname were marred by reports of disorder at polling booths. Vote counting was delayed, leading some opposition parties to declare that the NDP was looking to carry out electoral fraud. The NDP has denied the charge.
Criminal charges against the president
A win in the general election is critical for Bouterse, as it would help him gain presidential immunity and avoid prison. In November 2019, a military court convicted and sentenced Bouterse to 20 years in jail for the execution of 15 political opponents in 1982. The court ruled that Bouterse had overseen what is known as the "December killings," in which soldiers abducted dissidents, among them prominent journalists, academics and military officers.
All but one of the detainees was killed at a colonial fortress in the capital, Paramaribo. The sole survivor — a union leader — testified against Bouterse. Chan Santokhi had investigated the December killings as the police chief and justice minister.
The court did not issue an arrest warrant for Bouterse last year as under Surinamese law, an arrest can't be made until all appeals are exhausted. Bouterse has appealed the conviction and the hearing of the case was postponed until June owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bouterse has also had run-ins with the law in the Netherlands. In 2009, a Dutch court sentenced Bouterse to 11 years in prison in absentia for drug trafficking. However, his 2010 election victory protected him from being extradited under an Interpol warrant.
If Bouterse isn't reelected, he could face arrest in countries that have extradition treaties with the Netherlands, as he didn't serve his 11-year drug trafficking sentence.
Bouterse's son, Dino, is currently serving a 16-year sentence in the US on drug trafficking charges and trying to help the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah establish a base in Suriname.
A decade in power
Bouterse has been at the helm in Suriname since 2010. He first came to power in Suriname in 1980 following a coup, five years after Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands. He stepped down in 1987 under international pressure in a move that led to a democratic election.
Under Bouterse, Suriname has seen high inflation and rising foreign debt. However, Bouterse was hoping to win a third term, campaigning on his government's record of increasing social welfare spending and healthcare and infrastructure projects.
am/rt (AP, AFP)