Report on ICDN Zoom Conference held on Sunday July 26, 2020 on the topic: Ethnic Politics in Suriname: The Election of President Chandrikapersad Santokhi & Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk.
The VHP-Vatan Hitkari Party emerged winner of the recently concluded general election by winning 20 of the 51 seats in a coalition with other parties. Chandrikapersad Santokhi, Chair of VHP, was sworn in as President and Ronnie Brunswijk of the Maroon community as Vice President.
Suriname has a proportional representation electoral system. The election is conducted by a Ministry of Internal Affairs, and supervised by an Independent Electoral Office.
Suriname, a former Dutch colony, has a multi-ethnic population. The 2012 census was as follow: East Indians 27%; Javanese 14; Creoles 16%; Maroons 22%, Mixed 13% and others 3%. More than seven languages are spoken in Suriname including Dutch, Hindi, English and a Creole dialect.
The VHP has transformed itself from a mono-ethnic party representing the rights of the Indians to a multi-ethnic party attracting voters across religious and ethnic divides.
Dr. Willem Jan Bakker, a former member of the Parliament and medical doctor, serves as chairman of two foundations working in the area of community health. He also presents a weekly live call in radio program and writes a weekly column in De West, a daily newspaper in Suriname.
A member of the Zoom Panel on Suriname, Dr. Bakker attributed the emergence of the VHP to its ability to attract both Creoles and Javenese voters. He contended that when the Dutch left in 1975, the Creoles have failed to fill their shoes and that the Creoles have recognized the value in working with the Indians to manage institutions and work for the greater welfare of the Surinamese people.
Marten Schalkwijk, a professor with more than 137 academic papers to his credit, argued that the 2020 election was a shift from a mono-ethnic to multi-ethnic dispensation. He said that in 2005 the VHP was mainly confined to defending the interest of the Indian community. However, in 2020 the VHP has expanded to embrace and work with other ethnic and political interests.
The VHP attracted non-Hindustani people… “links with the ghetto boys, non- Indians, all joining to break the stigma that it is an Indian party…many from the middle class and lower middle class have voted for VHP.”
Marten said that the Maroon parties were able to win votes in non-traditional areas. He made a call for a distinction to be made between cultural ethnicity and political ethnicity. He asked to look on to see if this political change would reach down to the societal levels.
Also appearing on the panel was Neisha Jhakry, the youngest member of parliament and representative of the district of Nickerie for the VHP. A lawyer and holder of diplomas in Hindi and linguistics, Ms. Jhakry said that “the VHP is a centre and centre-left party that works closely with the Afro-Surinames community.”
She reported that Chan Santokhi (now the president of Suriname) is the chairman of the VHP Party since 3th July 2011, and under his leadership, the party has tried to move away from its past of representing only the Indo-Surinamese community.
“It is the second time in the history of Suriname, that we have a president in Suriname of Indian origin. It was a very proud moment for us as Surinamese from Indian origin. (The first president was Mr. Rameswak Sankar, the 4th president of Suriname, serving from 1988 to 1990. His government was overthrown by Desi Bouterse leading a bloodless military group),” said Ms Jhakry.
The new chairman of VHP (now the President of Suriname) opened the party for all ethnic groups. “It is the first time in its history our party participated in all the 10 districts of Suriname with candidates from all ethnic’s group,” said Ms. Jhakry.
Ravi Dev, Indian activist and media consultant, was the discussant. He noted that the territories of Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname with large Indian populations, all had elections this year and added that “Guyana holds the record in the Guinness Book of World Records for its longest delay in the declaration of a winner of its March 02 elections.”
Ravi Dev argued that Suriname embraces its diversity using a consociation model where ethnic groups come together to form a government. He contended that when the independence was granted “the people inherited a state, not a nation which is a homogenous group.” Dev added that “this is an inherent contradiction …the state has power of life and death and of presiding over the distribution of patrimony.”
“Suriname has a way of coalescing to satisfy the plurality of the constitution. However, in Guyana the ethnic insecurity started among Africans who were a minority. Power sharing is the way to go…the force of the oligarchy always operated with the Creole party always seizing power.”
Dev pointed that the PPP operates on Marxist principles and yet it is labelled an Indian party. “The Indian population has dropped to less than 40 %/. It means to get 54% of the votes to win an election, the PPP must get non-Indian votes.”
Dev wondered whether the votes VHP received outside its ethnic boundary represented a fundamental change in voting or was done because of the numerous economic and political scandals that rocked the country recently. ICDN Zoom Conference, chaired by Dr. Kumar Mahabir, is presented every Sunday between 7:30 P.M. and 9:00 PM, Atlantic time. It is a project of ICDN-Indo Caribbean Diaspora News. You can visit our online newspaper at www.icdn.today. For further info, please contact Dr. Kumar Mahabir Whatsapp 868-756-4961/ email: firstname.lastname@example.org .