Suriname - Political background

Suriname was a prosperous British settlement on the banks of the Suriname River of northeast South America. The settlement was transferred to the Dutch in 1667 by the Treaty of Breda, with the British receiving New York, New Jersey, and Delaware in return. Slaves imported from Africa furnished labor for the vast plantations, and after slavery was abolished in 1863, indentured laborers were brought in from British India and the Dutch East Indies for this purpose. Suriname has been a fully self-governing member of the Dutch Kingdom since the end of World War II. In 1975, upon being granted independence, the country dropped its former name of Dutch Guiana. Although originally governed as a parliamentary state, the Constitution was suspended in early 1980 following a military coup led be Désiré Bouterse. The arrest and execution of 15 prominent civilians by Bouterse's government resulted in internal and external pressures for the drafting of a new Constitution, approved in September 1987, and subsequent free elections. This Constitution gave Suriname a mixed presidential and parliamentary form. Civilian rule was restored in 1988; Lt. Colonel Bouterse created the National Democratic Party (NDP), a political vehicle for him and his supporters to use in the next elections. Bouterse's NDP won only three seats in the National Assembly. Nevertheless, after Bouterse staged a 1990 Christmas Eve coup, the National Assembly rapidly approved a new government dominated by the NDP that had the strong backing of the army. A semblance of constitutional government was maintained and elections were held in May 1991. The New Front (NF), a coalition made up of four political parties, swept the election on an anti-military platform, and their leader, Ronald Venetiaan, became president. Relations with the armed forces remained tense during the Venetiaan administration. He served until 1996, but lost his reelection bid to Jules Wijdenbosch, the candidate of the National Democratic Party (NDP). Former military dictator, Désiré Bouterse, was president of the NDP. In elections held in 2000, Venetiaan and his NF coalition were returned to power.

Under the terms of the 1987 Constitution, Suriname is a parliamentary republic with one legislative house, the National Assembly. Ultimate authority rests with this 51-member body which is elected for a five-year term. The National Assembly reflects the diverse population through ethnically based political parties. Elections are not prescheduled and can take place at any time during the five-year period. Executive authority rests with the president, who is elected by the National Assembly. The president serves as head of state, head of government, head of the armed forces, and chair of the Council of State, which is an advisory body. The president shares some of his powers with his vice-president, who heads the Cabinet and oversees day-to-day policy-making and administration.

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