Next to the trial against former dictator and current leader of the biggest political party in Suriname (NDP), Desi Bouterse, the coming elections planned in 2010 played already a significant role on the political agenda in the past year.
By now several coalitions have been formed in order to increase the chances of winning. This is due to the fact that the electoral system is in favour of big party combinations, which leads to the formation of pre-election alliances. Remarkable this year is the return of the DNP 2000 of former President Jules Wijdenbosch to its “mother” party, the NDP. It is expected that in the upcoming elections four combinations will compete: the current ruling coalition, New Front (NPS, VHP, PL, SPA), the mega block (NDP, BVD, KTPI, PALU), the Middle block (UPS, New Suriname, PSV), and the coalition mainly from the interior, the A-combination (BEP, ABOP, Seeka).
A certain status quo
Suriname its political system has proven to be relatively closed and instrumental to maintain a certain status quo, both in terms of political leaders as in terms of ethnical divides along which life in general is being organized. The political parties largely reflect and effectively accommodate the divisions in Suriname’s ethnically diverse society, maintaining peaceful coexistence and preventing political-racial discords.
Nonetheless, the weakness of the political arrangements reside in the continuation in power of the same elites as back in the 70’s and the lack of generational renewal and therefore guarantees for sustainability of the system. Moreover, in a small-scale society in which political parties and mainly leaders play a dominant role in any area of public life, it was essential to also focus on civic education in order to make politicians more accountable for their actions.
Traditional party structures
The political parties of Suriname are traditionally organized around the leader and have been very weak as organizations of political association and representation of their members by articulating their political will and interest. Two of the main reasons for this, together with a weak developed democratic culture, are the lack of institutional and financial capacities and the focus of most political parties around particularistic ethnical issues instead of social-economic issues of general interest.
Both contribute to the current situation in which the parties act merely as electoral machineries and lack permanent organisations for policy development. By introducing a train-the-trainers programme and the development of a draft law on public financing of political parties, the institutional capacity was increased in 2008. However, this improvement is relatively small and not applicable to all political parties.
Strengthening the role civil society
Suriname’s civil society organisations are weakly developed as autonomous forces for monitoring and pressure vis-à-vis government. Political society is hardly stimulated to be accountable to the citizens and to effectively articulate the needs of the constituencies. The liaison function of civil society between voice and accountability slightly improved because of the interaction between civil and political society during the Democracy Month, an annual event organised by the Democracy Unit in cooperation with a platform of civil society organisations. However, this improvement must be considered as relatively small and needs continuous attention in the coming years.