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Last updated: 29 June, 2010 - Published 16:09 GMT
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Ex-dictator struggles to gain power
Suriname jungle
Desi Bouterse (centre) has been struggling to form a coalition government

Former military strongman Desi Bouterse is facing obstacles in his attempt to secure the leadership of Suriname by the ballot.

Mr Bouterse, 64, heads the opposition National Democratic Party (NDP), part of the four-member political bloc Mega Combination (MC) that gained the most seats in May's parliamentary elections.

He first led the country after taking power in a 1980 military coup.

After stepping down in 1987 he briefly seized power again in a 1991 bloodless takeover.

But the 64-year-old's desire for a political comeback at the highest level, may be stalling, although he and his partners won 23 of the 51 seats in the elections.

In the first week of June, Mr Bouterse seemed to be edging toward his goal of the presidency, when he and a one-time fierce opponent signed a declaration of intent to form a government.

Ronny Brunswijk, leader of the A-Combination coalition, worked as Mr Bouterse's bodyguard before breaking with him and leading a group known as the Jungle Commandos in a civil war.

Cabinet posts

The alliance with the Maroon-based A-combination, which won seven seats, quickly fell apart, reportedly over the distribution of cabinet jobs.

Suriname map
Suriname: the former Dutch colony is now in political limbo

"We laid our cards on the table, and they weren't compatible with theirs," said Claire Linger, secretary of Mega Combination.

The A-combination has now aligned itself with other parties, including the governing New Front coalition of outgoing president Ronald Venetiaan.

The New Front coalition and its new-found allies claim a parliamentary majority with 27 seats.

"We have agreed that we now will try to form a government ...," said Ramdien Sardjoe, vice president of the New Front.


But they are still short of the two-thirds majority needed to elect a new president. The holder needs 34 votes.

If no agreement can be reached in parliament, Mr Bouterse could still be elected by a simple majority in the 868-member People's Assembly.

That body is an assembly of lawmakers and elected national and local officials, in which his Mega Combination holds a majority.

Whoever is chosen, one political analyst says he doesn't expect the next administration to be a stable one.

"I don't expect that this government will be in power very long, Professor Hans Breeveld of the University of Suriname told BBC Caribbean.

"There is too much polarisation because of the person of Mr Bouterse," he added, "so we expect that whatever government is in power, we expect that we will have elections very soon again."

Cocaine smuggling

In the meantime, Mr Venetiaan, who has declined to seek a third term, remains in charge of the country.

Ronald Venetiaan
Outgoing president Venetiaan remains in charge for the time being

The Netherlands, Suriname's former colonial power and aid donor, has said that ties between the two countries would be difficult with Mr Bouterse as president.

In 1999, he was convicted in absentia for cocaine smuggling in the Netherlands, but he has remained free because Suriname does not extradite its citizens.

Mr Bouterse is also facing trial at home in the slaying of 15 political opponents during his regime in 1982.

Correspondents say many in Suriname believe that his bid for the presidency is an attempt to gain immunity from prosecution.

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