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.
3 thoughts on “Opposition cleans up in Suriname”
That is a decidedly odd structure. Is there anywhere else where an executive President is chosen by an electoral college of local and county councillors if the national legislature can’t decide by a super-majority?
It bears some resemblances to 5(1)th Republic France, but even then (a) the president was meant to be… well, more than purely ceremonial, strong “umpiring” powers – but still not the person who personally hired and fired Ministers; (b) the electoral college of national and regional legislators held the first ballot as well as any subsequent runoffs, and (c) this body had at least some weighting towards population (I haven’t looked at Suriname’s figures but it’s not uncommon around the world for size of local council to bear no relationship to population…cf how here Qld has 93 MLAs to Victoria’s 88 despite having only 2/3 of the Garden State’s population size).
Also unusual (especially now) for one body to have the right to vote only on the first ballot, with any subsequent runoff(s) shifting to a different electorate if the first round fails to reach some minimum quorum off support. The only example left I can think of is the USA (50.1% of Electors or else 50.1% of State delegations in the national lower house… hey, it was all cleverly designed by Madison because HILLARY’S EMAILS, okay?) and one or another US State where a Governor needs to carry over half the _federal_ House districts or else the Legislature decides (these arrangements were more common up until the1960s). But previously (a) Chile before 1973 (50.1% of popular votes or else runoff in joint sitting of Congress) and Finland in a 1982-1994 transitional period (the Electoral College was still elected, but only got to vote if no candidate got 50.1% of popular votes).
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Yes, “odd” is definitely the word. De Gaulle’s original system for the 5th Republic was the one that occurred to me as well, but as you say it still doesn’t quite fit.
Um, can I amend “not uncommon around the world for size of local council(s) to bear no relationship to population sizes” to “not uncommon around the world for size of sub-national units’ assemblies/ councils to bear no relationship to population sizes” (cf New Hampshire’s State assembly – 400 members; California’s = 80)
Point otherwise remains