Indian origin leader likely to be President of Suriname

Suriname PIOs acquire political heft, alongside economic power


July 1, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

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The Progressive Reform Party (VHP), led by Chandrikapersad Santokhi, won 20 seats in Suriname’s 51-seat Parliament

A former Dutch colony in Latin America, Suriname, is home to a sizeable population of persons of Indian origin. A PIO is likely to take over as President of the country next month.

After a gap of over 30 years, an Indian-origin leader is well positioned to take charge as the President of Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America. In the elections to the Parliament, the Progressive Reform Party (VHP), led by former Justice Minister Chandrikapersad ‘Chan’ Santokhi, won 20 seats in Suriname’s 51-seat Parliament. The incumbent NDP party, to which outgoing President Desi Boutersé belongs, managed to secure only 16 seats. Though the election produced a hung Parliament, the VHP said it had reached an agreement with three smaller parties that would give its bloc 33 seats — one short of the two-thirds majority needed to elect the next president of the small country on the north-eastern shoulder of South America.

Suriname, earlier known as Dutch Guiana, is one of South America’s smallest countries. Considered to be the most ethnically diverse countries in the Americas, the country is home to people who once descended from Africa, India and Java (Indonesia). About, 230,000 or over 37 pc of the inhabitants in the country are persons of Indian origin. Though numerically strong and economically well off, the Indians have had limited share of political power, with the last elected President being Ramsewak Shankar who was deposed in a military coup in 1990 by the current President Dési Bouterse, after barely two years in power.

Thus, Santokhi could become only the second Indian origin person to be elected as the President of the country. On May 30, 2020, he threw his hat in the ring and announced his candidacy for the top job.

On June 29, the VHP duly nominated Chan Santokhi as its candidate for the Presidency. The parliament will select the next president by August. Santokhi, 61, has proposed to bolster a struggling economy by boosting industry and agriculture and by appealing for investment by the nearly 400,000 people of Surinamese origin living in the Netherlands.

Santokhi is a former police commissioner and former minister of justice and police who graduated from the Police Academy of the Netherlands in Apeldoorn. In 1982 he returned to Suriname to work as a police inspector in Geyersvlijt and Wanica until he was appointed in 1989 as head of the national criminal investigation department. In 1991 he was appointed chief commissioner of police.

In 2005, Santokhi was sworn in as Minister of Justice and Police on behalf of VHP. During this period, he was actively involved in crackdown on crime, particularly drug trafficking and a strict, no nonsense enforcement of law and order. He notably completed the investigations into the allegations of murder levelled against Bouterse and based on which the incumbent President was convicted and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. In 2011, Santokhi was elected as chairman of VHP, which was once the party of the PIOs in the country but has grown, since the appointment of Santokhi as chairman, into a multi-ethnical party.



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