Suriname leader seeks recount after poll defeat

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Paramaribo (Suriname) (AFP)

Suriname's ruling party is calling for a recount of votes in Monday's general election, the party leader and President Desi Bouterse said Thursday, after preliminary results showed the opposition winning.

Defeat would likely end a decade in power for Bouterse, a former military strongman who was convicted months earlier of ordering the murder of political opponents in 1982.

Early results showed the main opposition Progressive Reform Party (VHP) poised for a historic win.

But the count process in the oil and gold-exporting South American country quickly descended into chaos, with both government and opposition parties claiming irregularities.

"There will be a protest. We are going to request a recount and ask that all the people can see who won and lost where," Bouterse said in his first public comments after the election.

The controversial 74-year-old proposed the recount be broadcast on television to allow for full transparency.

NDP spokesman Melvin Bouva said it would request a recount in two or three of the 10 electoral districts.

Four opposition parties held a press conference earlier Thursday to raise concern about irregularities.

However, VHP leader Chan Santokhi called on the government to accept its electoral defeat, which opinion polls had predicted.

"Government, accept your loss and give us space to move to a transition situation. Let the authorities do their work," he said.

Santokhi meanwhile began talks with two other opposition parties on forming a coalition.

Santokhi's party was set to win 20 seats in the 51-member parliament which elects the president. Meanwhile, the NDP's vote collapsed, likely to keep 16 of its previous 26 seats, ending Bouterse's majority.

Opposition parties have ruled out forming a coalition with Bouterse.

In a preliminary report on Wednesday, observers from the Organization of American States noted "scenes of disorder, along with elevated levels of tension" at the main polling station in the capital Paramaribo.

It also described as "worrisome" what it called "an interaction" between the president and the electoral authority on election day.

Bouterse was first elected president in the former Dutch colony in 2010 after initially seizing power in 1980 and ruling for seven years. He seized power briefly a second time in a bloodless coup in 1990.

In November, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a military court for ordering executions during his first period in power, in 1982.

He was convicted of having 15 political opponents -- including lawyers, journalists and businessmen -- rounded up and executed.

The incident, known as the "December killings," was investigated by Santokhi in his previous roles as justice minister and police chief.