JOHANNESBURG — The African National Congress — the party that ended apartheid and has ruled South Africa for the past 15 years — has won another landslide victory in the country’s fourth democratic elections.
After all ballots have been counted, the party of Nelson Mandela has won 65.9 percent of the vote. The results demonstrate that the ANC’s enormous appeal among the country’s black majority has not been affected by the deep internal rift that led to the forced resignation of former President Thabo Mbeki and the formation of a breakaway party last year.
While the ANC’s score is high, it is lower than in the 2004 elections, when it secured 69.7 percent of the vote. As a result of this year’s polls, the ANC will get 264 seats in the 400-seat parliament and will lose the two-thirds majority that guarantees that bills are easily passed and allowed the ruling pary to amend the Constitution without the agreement of other parties.
As the party’s leader, Jacob Zuma will become South Africa’s fourth black president when he is sworn in May 9 in Pretoria. The date will mark the completion of an extraordinary political comeback for Zuma, who was fired by Mbeki in 2005 and then weathered corruption and rape charges. He was acquitted of the rape charges and the corruption charges were dropped.
“We are very grateful and humbled by the decisive mandate we have received from millions of South Africans,” Zuma said after the final vote tally was released on April 25. “We do not take the mandate lightly. We know the responsibility that comes with it.”
There was never any real doubt on the elections’ outcome. At a rally outside the ANC’s headquarters in downtown Johannesburg on the night of April 23, Zuma had struck a slightly vindictive tone, saying rival parties, political analysts and the media had all erred in predicting that the ANC’s influence and majority in Parliament would diminish as a result of the election.
“There is one point they all agreed on: that the African National Congress will win this election,” Zuma had told thousands of cheering supporters.
The mood then was already celebratory. Sporting a red polo shirt and a black-and-yellow ANC leather jacket, Zuma joined the numerous dance groups on stage, displaying a litheness that would be the envy of most other 67-year-olds.
The ANC insisted this was not a victory celebration yet, but with the explosion of gold and green confetti, fireworks and the three oversized champagne bottles switching hands among ANC dignitaries, one easily could have been fooled. Even Zuma, who never drinks, had a cup. A true victory party took place at an exhibition hall east of Soweto on Friday.
The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, placed second with 16.7 percent. The Congress of the People, a party formed by ANC dissidents in the wake of Mbeki’s departure, was third with 7.4 percent of the vote. Expatriate South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time this year, and the DA received about 75 percent of votes cast overseas.
The election proceeded fairly smoothly, and 77.3 percent of South Africa’s 23.2 million registered voters cast their ballot.
Many voters had expressed their desire for a stronger opposition, but the opposition’s collective performance is about the same as in past elections. However, it is now concentrated in the hands of fewer parties. The DA, led by Cape Town mayor Helen Zille, improved on its score of 12 percent in 2004. The party also wrestled the Western Cape province away from the ANC. Over the past five years, the ANC had controlled all of the country’s nine provinces.
One party that did not live up to expectations is Cope. Formed four months ago by discontented ANC members, the fledgling party’s campaign was plagued by internal bickering and poor management. It also took a gamble in picking a virtual unknown as its presidential candidate.
Richardt Venter, a 30-year-old architect from the trendy Johannesburg neighborhood of Greenside, said he had contemplated voting for Cope but decided to vote for the DA. “It’s familiar,” he said. Plus, he knew little about Cope’s policies and leadership.
“I think they deserve a fighting chance,” Venter said. “But I think at this stage I’m not comfortable enough yet.”
The ANC, in contrast, is a well-known brand, and many among the country’s black population say they would never consider voting for another party than the one that brought them the right to vote in the first place.
On one hand, expectations are high that Zuma, who grew up herding goats and taught himself to read, will do more than previous governments to improve basic services and provide jobs.
On the other hand, some investors are nervous that Zuma, who has the backing of trade unions and the South African Communist Party, will abandon the economic policies that have paved the way for several years of sustained growth. The looming financial crisis almost guarantees that Zuma will stick with the status quo.
“The government will not be able to meddle with anything because it will be too nervous about upsetting things,” said political analyst Allister Sparks before the elections.
Editor's note: This is an updated story which shows the final results of South Africa's elections.
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