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Elections in Suriname to decide gov’t for next 5 years

FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2010 file photo, Suriname's President Desi Bouterse speaks with journalists at the presidential cabinet office in Paramaribo, Suriname. Bouterse is betting that the Monday, May 25, 2015 election to choose the South American country's next Parliament will keep him and his party in power for another five years. (AP Photo/Edward Troon, File)

PARAMARIBO, Suriname (AP) — Suriname’s President Desi Bouterse is betting that Monday general elections to choose the South American country’s next Parliament will keep him and his party in power for another five years.

Most recent polls conducted in Suriname give a comfortable majority to Bouterse’s National Democratic Party.

The 69-year-old was military dictator of Suriname twice after leading coups and has been convicted in absentia of drug trafficking, but was elected democratically in 2010 to his current term in the ethnically diverse country of about 550,000 people.

Bouterse promised a landslide victory in Monday’s election. His party needs a two-thirds majority of 34 seats in Parliament for him to be automatically re-elected as party leader without forging a coalition.

Bouterse’s biggest rival is Chan Santokhi, a former justice minister who leads a new opposition coalition that calls itself the V7 alliance. Santokhi and his coalition accuse the government of corruption and such bad financial mismanagement that public debt has increased from roughly $295 million in 2010 to $1.7 billion now.

Bouterse has loomed over Surinamese politics for decades. He first came to power in 1980, when he led a coup that saw the constitution suspended and Parliament dissolved just five years after independence from the Netherlands. Under international pressure he allowed the return of civilian rule in 1987, only to launch a second coup in 1990.

His strategic coalition-building with former political enemies got him the presidency in 2010. Some of those old alliances fractured in recent years, but recent polls have indicated Bouterse remains popular.

But he is dogged by old allegations of corruption. Convicted of drug trafficking in absentia in 1999 in the Netherlands, he was sentenced to 11 years but avoided that punishment because Suriname doesn’t have an extradition treaty with its former colonial ruler. Since 2010, he has also had immunity as head of state.

Earlier this year, a U.S. judge sentenced Bouterse’s son Dino to serve over 16 years in prison after he admitted that he offered a home base in Suriname to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The son, whose father once picked him to lead a counterterrorist unit, said he was motivated by money and pleaded guilty.

There are 353,000 registered voters in the country of roughly 550,000 people. The Organization of American States, the Caribbean Community and several other groups have sent observer missions.

Results were expected Tuesday.

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