Vote counting from Suriname's National Assembly elections was suspended Tuesday as the governing party trailed in announced returns, with authorities saying electoral personnel were exhausted a day after widespread problems in voting.
Opposition parties and good government groups already had raised claims of irregularities on election day, and the suspension brought new questions about the dangers of electoral fraud.
The vote count was halted with 73% of the ballots counted, and President Desi Bouterse’s National Democratic Party appeared headed for defeat. If the trend held up, his party would drop from a majority 26 seats to 16 in the 51-seat parliament. Chan Santokhi's opposition United Reform Party would rise to 20 seats from nine.
Electoral officials said they had no choice but to stop the vote count.
“We’ve been running for 36 hours. I understand everyone’s desire to hear the results, but we’re just people,” Mike Nerkust, chairman of the chief polling station, told Apintie Television.
He said there shouldn’t be any worries about the ballots. “There are police, there are soldiers and there are people from the political parties and camera systems who keep an eye on the ballot boxes tonight,” he said.
Bouterse, a 74-year-old former coup leader and strongman who has been convicted of murder and drug smuggling, was hoping to ride the elections into another term despite Suriname's economic problems, which include a foreign debt that experts say cannot be repaid and high inflation. The new National Assembly will select the president in August.
An observer mission from the Organization of American States and local groups reported numerous irregularities during voting Monday, and some Surinamese voiced worries about the halt in vote counting.
However, a mission from the Caribbean Community called the criticism “heavily exaggerated.” At a news conference, the regional organization's team said, "Attention has been paid to almost all serious reports of possible electoral fraud. The mission has not been able to establish this anywhere.
Local organization disagreed with that assessment. The head of the independent Electoral Bureau, Jennifer van Dijk-Silos, called this “the most chaotic elections" she ever experienced. Dew Sharman, a opposition lawmaker, reported seeing already open ballot boxes being delivered to the counting center at the Anthony Nesty Sports Hall.
“I’m staying here tonight to make sure no one gets to the ballots,” Pakitow Biervliet of another opposition party, Justice and Development, said during a report via Facebook from the sports hall.
A victory for Santokhi's party would not assure him of the presidency. A two-thirds vote by the parliament is required to win the presidency, so Bouterese's party could block him.
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