High voter turn out projected for Suriname elections

A high voter turnout is expected today for Suriname’s general elections, which could see controversial former President Desi Bouterse regaining power.

Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) has teamed up with three other parties to establish the Mega Combination coalition, which is so far leading in the preliminary polls. The National Front Alliance, led by incumbent President Ronald Venetiaan, is trailing in second, followed by the Democracy, Development and Unity led by Carl Breevaldt. Bouterse, who is a convicted drug trafficker, is said to be commanding strong support heading into the elections and in particular among young voters. Bouterse and 11 others are currently being tried in a military court on charges of murder, for the killing of 15 opponents while he was president.

Steve Vrieze, General Secretary of the Central Polling Bureau, said yesterday that voter turnout is expected to be high for this year. According to him, there are about 423,800 registered voters, a figure significantly higher than the 330,000 registered for the 2005 elections, when turnout was gauged at about 68 percent. According to Vrieze, the 2005 elections were plagued with several irregularities and he pointed out that about 68,000 persons were not able to vote since they did not receive their voter registration cards in time. He explained that this would have been caused in part to people relocating without informing the relevant authorities. Vrieze estimated that for this year only about 30,000 persons have been affected by this problem. He opined that the figure did not represent an outrageous figure.

Vrieze explained that there are 580 polling stations spread across ten districts in the country.  Explaining how votes are counted, he said that in each district there is a main polling station that tallies the votes cast. The main polling stations then input the data into a computer system and it is then transferred to the Central Polling Bureau. He said that the system allows for preliminary results of the elections to be known as early as the day after the elections are held.

He stressed, however, that the Central Polling Bureau only releases the official results and this is done after it physically counts and verifies every ballot. While this process takes time, the Bureau hopes to release the official results before June 7, Vrieze stated.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Paramaribo persons went about their business as per usual and residents told Stabroek News that there was a general calmness to the atmosphere. In keeping with the elections agreement, all the parties stopped campaigning on Sunday evening. Stabroek News was told that both the Mega Combination and the New Front Alliance ended their campaigns with massive rallies on Sunday evening in Paramaribo.

Yesterday in the city, persons attached to Bouterse’s NDP were conducting voter’s education sessions. One of the volunteers, Mrs Beckhan, said that such exercises were necessary since many persons could not read and as a consequence did not understand what was required when filling out the ballots. According to her, the response to the exercise was encouraging.

Today’s elections will see nine parties contesting for 51 seats in the National Assembly and 752 seats in the Regional Council. The parties will also be vying for 116 seats in the District Council, which are awarded based on performances in the elections for the Regional Council. However, observers have noted that it is still too early to say who will become President since coalitions often occur in the National Assembly after the results of the elections are revealed. The President is elected based on which party has the most seats in the National Assembly.

In 1999, a Dutch court convicted Bouterse on charges of trafficking cocaine from Suriname to the Netherlands and sentenced him to 11 years in prison. He was not sent to the Netherlands because a treaty between the two countries prohibits the extradition of each others’ citizens.


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