PRETORIA, South Africa – South Africa’s long-dominant governing party
was racing against itself Friday, leaving its opponents far behind and
closing in on its goal of doing as well or better than in the last
Preliminary results from the nearly 14.5 million
ballots counted so far from Wednesday’s election showed that Jacob
Zuma’s African National Congress party was leading the vote with 66.91
The largely white opposition Democratic Alliance,
according to the preliminary count, had 15.62 per cent. The Congress of
the People – formed by a breakaway faction of the ANC last year – was
trailing with 7.53 per cent.
Final results were expected later Friday or early Saturday.
Parliament elects South Africa’s president by a
simple majority, putting Zuma in line for the post when the new
assembly votes in May.
The ANC swept South Africa’s first post-apartheid
election in 1994 and the two following that. In 2004, it took 69.69 per
cent of the parliamentary vote. If the ANC fails to at least match that
this year, it will be seen as a message from voters that they want some
limits on the party.
A two-thirds majority allows the ANC to enact major budgetary plans or legislation unchallenged, or to change the constitution.
On Thursday night, Zuma, ANC leaders and supporters
danced and drank champagne in downtown Johannesburg outside party
headquarters. The ANC leader said he was just thanking campaign
workers, but it looked very much like a victory celebration.
With relish, Zuma told several thousand supporters
that skeptics who had said the ANC wouldn’t get 60 per cent of the
parliamentary vote now “are saying 70.”
The opposition COPE party, formed last year by
disgruntled former ANC members, had at first been seen as a major
threat to the governing party. Instead, it seems to have drawn most of
its support from smaller parties.
Patricia De Lille’s Independent Democrats got 1.73
per cent of the vote in 2001 but only had 0.91 per cent Friday. In
response, De Lille called for “like-minded” opposition parties to unite
and redefine the country’s political structure.
De Lille caused some excitement among voters when
she broke away from the left-wing Pan African Congress to form the
Independent Democrats in 2003. De Lille, who is mixed-race from the
Western Cape, is a respected legislator and was a key whistleblower in
an arms deal scandal that has been a major issue in South African
Sipho Ngwema, a COPE spokesman, said the party would
consider working with De Lille’s and other parties – but not the ANC,
which COPE has accused of being undemocratic and soft on corruption
“A well-coordinated (opposition coalition) speaking in a united voice will get bigger returns for our people,” Ngwema admitted.
A record 23 million South Africans registered to
vote, and long lines snaked around the country Wednesday as voters went
to the polls. A 77 per cent turnout has been recorded at polling
stations where counting has finished.
With his all-but-official victory, Zuma takes on a
heavy responsibility – meeting expectations for change among the
impoverished black majority.
But the mood was light Thursday night, and an
ebullient Zuma drew wild cheers as he leapt high with one troupe of
dancers and boogied with another with an energy belying his 67 years.
That ability to connect, and his rise from poverty
to political prominence have drawn adoring crowds throughout the
election campaign. The ANC views Zuma as the first leader who can
energize voters since the legendary Nelson Mandela, and the wily
populist has survived corruption and sex scandals that would have
derailed other politicians.
Critics, though, question whether he can implement his populist agenda amid the global economic meltdown.
The ANC has been accused of moving too slowly over
the last 15 years to improve the lives of South Africa’s black
majority. During this campaign, the ANC has stressed its commitment to
creating jobs and a stronger social safety net for this nation of
nearly 50 million, which is plagued by poverty, unemployment and an
Toward the end of the campaign, Zuma was talking not
about creating jobs, but staving off job losses, and saying the
worldwide financial meltdown had to be taken into account.
Zuma was fired as deputy president by then-President
Thabo Mbeki in 2005 after Zuma was implicated in an arms bribery
scandal. After a series of protracted legal battles, prosecutors
dropped all charges against him earlier this month. In 2006, Zuma was
acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend.