Suriname elected a new president on Monday, ending the long rule of Desi Bouterse, who dominated the small South American nation’s politics for most of its independent history through intimidation and charisma.
The president, Chan Santokhi, a 61-year-old former police chief and leader of the opposition, was elected to office by Suriname’s Congress following a landslide opposition victory in the May general elections. In handing Mr. Santokhi a victory, the Surinamese punished Mr. Bouterse, a former military dictator turned populist champion, for a disastrous economic crisis and widespread corruption of his government.
Mr. Bouterse leaves power as he appeals a 20-year jail sentence for his role in the murder of 15 prominent political opponents following a 1980 military coup. It is unclear if he will serve jail time now that he has lost his presidential immunity.
As police chief, Mr. Santokhi had investigated Mr. Bouterse for this role in the violence connected with the coup, a deeply traumatizing event for the country’s older generation knows as the “December Murders.”
Some in Suriname, however, fear that trying to enforce the homicide sentence could provoke riots from Mr. Bouterse’s well-organized supporters and make the small nation ungovernable.