Occupied by the Dutch in 1667, Suriname (then Dutch Guiana) was ruled from the Netherlands until 1954, when it gained autonomous status under Dutch sovereignty. Full independence was achieved in 1975. Since then Suriname has had a turbulent history. The first elected government was ejected by the military in 1980, followed by a long period of political instability and deteriorating economic conditions. Although popular pressure led to elections in 1988, the military reasserted itself in another coup in 1990. Elections in 1991 and 1996 resulted in the establishment of fragile coalition governments. Growing frustration at the worsening state of the economy led to widespread strikes and demonstrations and forced the government of President Jules Wijden-bosch to resign in 2000. After new elections, a coalition led by the New Front (Nieuw Front or NF) was formed under the leadership of Ronald Venetiaan, who had been president from 1991 to 1996.
The president is both the chief of state and the head of government. The president and vice president are elected by the 51-member National Assembly or, in case of deadlock, by the larger People's Assembly, which has 869 representatives from national, local, and regional councils. Legislative power is vested in the unicameral National Assembly, whose members are elected to 5-year terms. Judicial power is vested in a Court of Justice, in which justices serve for life.
While the transition to multi-party democracy has been essentially peaceful, the threat of civil disorder remains ever present. The government has little control over the interior, where remnants of the Maroon Jungle Commando rebellion, officially quelled in 1992, continue to operate, along with bandits, drug traffickers, and illegally armed gold miners, making development difficult and even dangerous. Corruption and favoritism in the bureaucracy also combine to undermine government's effectiveness. In October 2000 it was discovered that 98 percent of Suriname's gold reserves had disappeared. Foreign investors are discouraged by a legal and regulatory system they consider inefficient and unreliable.
Since the 1990s, relations with the Netherlands, once an important source of foreign aid, have been strained. The United States suspects Suriname of being a transshipment base for both South American cocaine and illegal Chinese immigrants. Suriname is also embroiled in long-standing disputes with neighboring Guyana and French Guiana over rival territorial and maritime claims.
Suriname's tariff regime is cumbersome and complex. Average import duties range from 30 to 40 percent. New legislation is being drafted to liberalize and streamline the system. To compensate for losses in tariff revenues, the government plans to enact more aggressive strategies for collecting taxes from the country's large informal economy . Direct taxes accounted for only a third of revenue in 1996, and the government hopes to increase this by 20 percent.