A convicted drug trafficker who has been a coup leader and an international fugitive, Bouterse is seeking to dispense with his alliance with one-time nemesis Ronnie Brunswijk and preside over the first non-coalition democratic government in Suriname's history.
Bouterse's National Democratic Party (NDP) formed a government after the last elections in 2010 by forging a motley mega-coalition, returning him to power for the second time since his 1980-1987 military government.
The party needs to win at least 26 seats in the 51-member National Assembly to govern alone, and 34 seats to re-elect Bouterse -- the president is chosen by a two-thirds majority of parliament.
The main opposition is the V7, a coalition of six parties that accuses Bouterse of massive corruption and has a broad ethnic base in the racially diverse country whose 500,000 people have roots in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.
The third main group, and possible power-broker, is the Alternative Combination alliance led by Brunswijk, a former guerrilla leader who fought a civil war against Bouterse's military government before teaming up with his former foe in 2010.
The party's base are the Maroons, the descendants of fugitive slaves who set up settlements in the Surinamese interior.
The smallest country in South America, Suriname was colonized by the British and Dutch and gained independence from the Netherlands in 1975.
Five years later, a group of sergeants led by Bouterse overthrew prime minister Henck Arron and installed a military government.
Whether in his dictator's fatigues and sunglasses or his sharp president's suit, Bouterse, 69, has loomed large over the country's politics ever since.
His regime put down two counter-coups and rounded up and executed 15 opponents in 1982, an event known as the "December killings."
Bouterse stepped down in 1987, but returned to power in 1990 in a second bloodless coup.
After leaving power a second time, Bouterse was indicted and court-martialed for the December killings, but his coalition passed a controversial amnesty law in 2012 that aborted the trial.
The president and his family have faced a host of other legal woes, adding to the country's reputation for drug running, money laundering and graft.
The Netherlands convicted him in absentia of cocaine smuggling in 1999, but he remained free because Suriname does not extradite its citizens.
Earlier this year, a Dutch court rejected his third bid to have the conviction overturned.
In March, a US court sentenced his son Dino, who had served as his father's top counter-terrorism official, to 16 years in prison on charges of trying to aid and arm Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.
Bouterse has shrugged off these scandals and bolstered his popularity with expanded social welfare programs, free university education and lavish spending on infrastructure projects such as bridges, schools and housing.
The V7, formerly known as the New Front, accuses him of corruption and populism, and warns the tab for these projects will hurt when it arrives.
It also blames the NDP for an energy crisis it says was caused by shady deals with US-based aluminum giant Alcoa for the Afobaka hydroelectric dam, which generates most of the mineral-rich, upper-middle-income country's power.
In all, seven parties and four coalitions are vying for the ballots of 350,000 registered voters, who will also elect their district and local representatives.
Polls open at 7:00 am (1000 GMT) and close 12 hours later.
The first, partial results are expected at 10:00 pm, with a projection of the full results early Tuesday.