May 26, 2015 / 2:01 PM / 4 years ago

Suriname's Bouterse on track for second presidential term

PARAMARIBO (Reuters) - Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse, a former military ruler convicted of drug trafficking in the Netherlands, looked on course for a second term after his party won a slim majority in parliamentary elections, according to first results on Tuesday.

Suriname's President Desi Bouterse (C) of the ruling National Democratic Party and his wife Ingrid are mobbed by supporters after he cast his vote during parliamentary elections at in Paramaribo, Suriname, May 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ranu Abhelakh

Based on an unofficial but widely accepted preliminary tally of votes around the nation, Bouterse’s National Democratic Party (NDP) won 26 or 27 seats in the 51-member assembly.

“The NDP has won the elections,” said Ramon Abrahmas, the campaign leader for Bouterse, whose charismatic style and social welfare policies seem to have won over voters.

The opposition coalition, on track to take 17 or 18 seats, accepted defeat.

“We did not make it. That is a disappointment,” said Chandrikapersad Santokhi, a former justice minister and police commissioner who leads the V7 opposition coalition and was Bouterse’s main rival.

Although Bouterse, 69, needs a two-thirds majority in parliament to guarantee a second five-year term, he seemed likely to get that via allies or a separate mechanism whereby a special expanded assembly votes for president.

That process, however, could take months.

The local election board was due to give final formal results of Monday’s election within one or two weeks.

DRUGS CRIMES

Convicted in absentia of drug trafficking by a court in the Netherlands in 1999, Bouterse always has denied wrongdoing.

He had also faced prosecution for the execution of 15 opponents in 1982 during his military rule, but the National Assembly passed an amnesty law in 2012 that gave him immunity. Santokhi, then police commissioner, had led the probe.

Bouterse’s son, Dino, was sentenced in March to 16-1/4 years in prison, after pleading guilty to U.S. charges that he tried to offer a base to the Lebanese paramilitary group Hezbollah.

Bouterse, a former sergeant who took part in two coups in 1980 and 1990, said Suriname’s 550,000 people had benefited economically in the last five years, especially from increased child education benefits and health care for all.

His jokes and songs on the campaign trail also have gone down well with voters.

“Bouterse is a people’s leader ... someone who is presenting himself well both in words and in deeds,” said NDP supporter and government employee Vanesse Wong A Ton, 40. “To realise all our plans, we need five terms, not only five years!”

Opponents, though, accuse the president of cronyism and corruption.

Suriname, perched on South America’s northeastern shoulder, won independence from the Netherlands in 1975 and is now a gold and bauxite miner with a nascent oil industry.

Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Paul Simao

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