In response to the request from the Government of the Republic of Suriname, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has fielded a CARICOM Election Observation Mission to monitor the general elections.
The four-member Mission which arrived in Suriname on Monday, 18 May 2020 is headed by Ms. Dora James, Supervisor of Elections of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She has served as a member of CARICOM Election Observation Missions to other CARICOM Member States.
The Mission has since paid a courtesy visit to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yldiz Pollack-Beighle who welcomed the delegation to the Republic of Suriname and emphasized the importance of the CARICOM’s delegation to the conduct of free and fair Elections, even more so in the context of the global challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suriname is the first country in the region to organize an election under the current COVID-19 conditions and will therefore serve as a model for the region. St. Kitts and Nevis will go to the polls to elect a new government on June 5.
It is expected that, in addition to discussions with the Independent Electoral Bureau and other national election authorities, the Mission will meet with, President of the Republic of Suriname H.E. Desiré Delano Bouterse, as well as traditional authorities, representatives of political parties, the media and civil society groups.
For CARICOM, election observation serves as a platform to support existing democratic traditions within the Caribbean Community as part of its wider policy of supporting democracy and good governance.
Suriname, like most CARICOM member states, has been rocked by the Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) and the economy is in steep decline. In addition, a scandal at the central bank where President Robert van Trikt was sacked over the misappropriation of the $100 million and the government struggled to find a permanent replacement has shaken confidence in the financial system.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the combination of these factors is likely to contribute to a 4.9 percent contraction in the economy in 2020. The Inter-American Development Bank suggests an even gloomier outlook: the contraction could be at least comparable to the 5.6 percent decline in 2015, when global commodity prices sank. The IMF however, forecasts a 4.9 percent recovery in 2021.
The deterioration in Suriname’s economic situation has raised major questions over its ability to repay its debt. Fitch, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s all downgraded Suriname’s debt ratings, the first two agencies to default levels.
Fitch downgraded Suriname on January 16, ahead of the coronavirus outbreak. It noted that the “key triggers behind the downgrade were a sharp increase in government debt, reduced financial flexibility evident in the stressed terms of recent external sovereign borrowing and declining liquidity, which increases risks to the government’s capacity to service its foreign-currency (FC) liabilities.” Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s followed with their downgrades in April.
In many regards, the 2020 elections may be seen as a referendum on the 74-year old Bouterse, who has played a major role in Suriname’s political development since the 1980 military coup. President Bouterse has since been sentenced by a Surinamese court in November 2019 to 20 years in prison, for the December 1982 executions of 15 political opponents arising from the coup.
Despite the fact that the United States has what it calls “a constructive partnership” with Suriname, Washington was one of the countries that signed a letter of support to the Surinamese court that pressed ahead with the case which sentenced Bouterse to 20 years in prison. On top of that, the Dutch still have an outstanding arrest warrant for Bouterse for his 1999 drug trafficking conviction in The Netherlands.
But even with all eyes on Suriname and considering the mix of recession, economic mismanagement, corruption, and alleged criminality, it is questionable that the opposition will unite against the NDP and Bouterse in the May 25 elections.
But the politically astute Bouterse did not put all his eggs in one basket. He has over the years, forged a close working relationship with China, which has placed additional strain on the working relationship between Paramaribo and Washington.
Of course, this relationship is further pressured as Suriname has been relatively close to the Nicolás Maduro administration in Venezuela and has cordial relations with Cuba.
Seventeen parties have registered to run against the NDP, leaving an uncertain political landscape in the aftermath of the elections. If the NDP suffers heavy losses at the polls—which is a distinct possibility—the opposition will need to quickly form a coalition government to counterbalance Bouterse, something that has been done in the past.
However, as one writer said, “defeating Bouterse won’t be an easy task. Using the system of patronage he has built up around the NDP, composed of officials who are also vulnerable to investigations into corruption, Bouterse can rally the faithful to keep him in power. Bouterse himself depends on winning the election to avoid prison.”
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