Weirdly enough, it turns out that being a convicted murderer is an electoral handicap. Or at least it was in Suriname, where the party of incumbent president and one-time coup leader Desi Bouterse was heavily defeated in Monday’s election. (See my preview here.)
At the last election, in 2015, Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) won 45.5% of the vote and 26 of the 51 seats in the National Assembly. With 98.3% of polling places reporting, that’s been almost halved, down to 23.9% and 16 seats.
The main opposition party, the Progressive Reform Party (VHP), has 39.7% of the vote and 20 seats; another four parties, all of them anti-Bouterse, are sharing the remaining 15 seats. (Results are available here – they’re in Dutch, but if you try you’ll probably find Dutch is not as difficult to read as you think.)
The NDP seems to have lost support pretty much across the board: in only one of the ten districts (Coronie) did it increase its vote. Previous speculation that quarantine measures would allow it to steal votes in the sparsely-populated south proved unfounded; it did just as badly in Sipaliwini, the large interior district, as anywhere else, suffering a 24.6% swing.
Bouterse has not yet conceded defeat, and in view of his record the opposition has understandable concerns that he might not be willing to go quietly. AAP quotes the leader of the VHP, Chan Santokhi, saying “President Bouterse must acknowledge his defeat and start talks on the transfer to a new government.”
Because of Suriname’s rather odd constitutional structure, power would not transfer immediately in any case. The new National Assembly is to meet in August to elect the president, which it must do by a two-thirds majority. If it fails to do so, the task passes to a larger body, the People’s Assembly, which includes representatives of local and regional councils.
So if Bouterse could manage to pick up an extra two seats he would be able to block the election of Santokhi or any other opposition candidate, possibly bringing on a constitutional crisis. And with a 20-year jail sentence hanging over his head, he has a powerful incentive to do whatever it takes to cling to power.