New Delhi: Suriname, a small country in South America with a significant Hindu population, elected a new president Monday, ending the dictatorial rule of Desi Bouterse.
Chan Santokhi, an Indian-origin former police chief, won a landslide victory in the general elections conducted in the country in May.
Santokhi, who was also the leader of Opposition, replaced Bouterse, who is facing murder charges and has also been convicted of drugs smuggling abroad.
The new president now inherits a country on the verge of bankruptcy, widespread corruption and the coronavirus pandemic. So far, there have been 780 cases and 18 deaths.
Suriname is a former Dutch colony but the country’s relations with the Netherlands, which was once its primary trade partner, deteriorated under Bouterse’s rule.
Bouterse “shifted Suriname’s foreign alliances away from the Netherlands and toward China and nearby Venezuela, whose redistributive economic policies and anti-imperialist rhetoric he copied at home,” the New York Times reported.
Santokhi, the 61-year-old member of the Progressive Reform Party (PRP), will be sworn in as president on 16 July.
Bouterse’s ‘December Murders’
As police chief, Santokhi investigated the now former-president for his involvement in the “December Murders” where 15 young, prominent Surinamese men were killed after they criticised Bouterse’s military dictatorship.
While Bouterse was convicted of the crime, his sentence was never enforced for fear of riots. Four decades of running the country has earned him deep connections in the military as well as the love of a loyal voter base.
Both Santokhi and Bouterse were present in Congress Monday, where Bouterse warned Santokhi, “It won’t be an easy job; I’ve experienced that myself. But it will succeed if we work together. If you need me, you know where to find me.”
Meanwhile, Santokhi promised to unite the country’s diverse citizens and addressed his greatest obstacle. “We’re on the brink of a financial abyss. There is concern. The treasury is virtually empty. This crisis surpasses any worst-case scenario we’ve considered. We will have to face the crisis together. We have no time to lose.”
Suriname’s Hindu connection
The 2012 census reveals that Christianity is the predominant religion in Suriname, accounting for 48.4 per cent of the country’s total population while Hinduism is the second-most practiced religion, composing 22.3 per cent of the population respectively.
The country also accounts for the third-highest number of Hindus in the Western Hemisphere.
Indians settled in the Dutch plantations in Suriname under the British rule and have since stayed on due to the liberal policies of the country allowing them to practice their religion. They form the religious majority in North Suriname.
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