Suriname gets Maroon VP and assembly speaker for 1st time

Bert Wilkinson | 7/16/2020, midnight
Nearly two months after locals voted in general elections, the Caribbean Community’s Dutch-speaking nation of Suriname on Monday transitioned to ...
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Nearly two months after locals voted in general elections, the Caribbean Community’s Dutch-speaking nation of Suriname on Monday transitioned to a new government with a four-party multiracial, multi ethnic coalition taking power with major economic repair jobs staring it in the face.

But of even greater importance was the major leap the country of just under 500,000 people took on election day on May 25 as for the first time in its history, two direct descendants of runaway slaves from brutal Dutch colonialism have been elected to serve as vice president and assembly speaker of the republic at one and the same time.

On June 29, former Surinamese guerilla leader Ronnie Brunswijk was elected to serve as the speaker of the 51-seat parliament. That made him the first Maroon to be elected to run the house but Brunswijk, conscious of the chance to propel the image of Maroons in Suriname on Monday, gave up that position to colleague and fellow Maroon Marinus Bee to be elected as vice president. He said that this was the first time since independence from The Netherlands in late 1975 that a Maroon has been elected to the second highest political office in this resource-rich Caricom-member nation.

Brunswijk’s ABOP Party which appeared to have enjoyed overwhelming support from Maroons in the southeast near French Guiana and other parts of the interior, gained nine seats in the late May elections, almost doubling what it had in the previous parliament. The party’s great showing placed it in such a strong position that negotiating the position of house speaker and vice president was relatively easy.

The Indo-dominated VHP which won 20 of the 51 seats, was forced to depend on ABOP’s nine and two other parties to gain a majority of 26 of the 51 seats to win government. With ABOP bringing in the second largest amounts of seats for the coalition, Brunswijk’s demand to be made speaker in the first instance and later to abandon it for the vice presidency became a no brainer. He will serve under new president and former justice minister Chandra Santokhi of the VHP. They were both elected unopposed mid Monday morning as parliament reconvened to elect them and for Brunswijk to switch from speaker to VP. Their nominations were uncontested.

But once it became clear that Brunswijk, a timber and gold magnate, was aiming for the VP, he said that he was beginning to sense that large sections of the country’s multiracial setting that includes East Indians, urban Creole Blacks, Javanese from Indonesia, descendants of Lebanese immigrants and a smattering of whites, appeared to have become uncomfortable with the election of a Maroon to such high office. He confronted the issue a week ago, noting that it appears that “it is difficult to accept a Maroon. The people have spoken and we must respect that. In 2010 it was also felt that Desi Bouterse (former military dictator and civilian president sentenced to 20 years for mass murder) could not become president. But it has been 10 years. And everyone was silent. So the acceptance of a Maroon is difficult in this community. I see that. That is it. We must respect the will of the people,” he said as he had announced plans to become the VP.

But while he thinks that discomfort with his Marooness is the main issue, his critics are quick to hark back to his past as a rebel leader/jungle commando during the mid ’80s interior civil war, his 1984 conviction for armed bank robbery and his conviction in The Netherlands for alleged drug smuggling.

During the bush war, he was the darling of France and the Dutch but once it ended, the Europeans had no more use for him and Bouterse as they were both were slapped with highly controversial drug convictions which they have promptly ignored over the decades. Brunswijk made no mention of his past during brief remarks after his election on Monday, noting only that “I am always ready to give my powers where necessary. I am very happy to accept this election. This is a historic and special assignment that I will fulfill with the support of the Almighty. God be with us, Suriname.”

As an indication of how the Maroon community sees his elevation Ruben Ravenberg, secretary of the Marron Kompas Foundation, notes that “this means for the organization that the maroon is on the rise. He must not only fill the position, but also solve the needs of the maroons. We and the natives are lagging behind other groups. If a Maroon is there we can do better communicating. We expect him to solve the needs. ABOP has nine seats. Brunswijk is therefore a factor.”