South Africa’s ruling ANC loses ground but holds onto lead in national vote
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South Africa’s ruling ANC loses ground but holds onto lead in national vote

Party highly critical of Israel set to remain in power, but with diminished support amid widespread allegations of corruption

People look at election results boards, at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Results Operations Centre on May 9, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa (Phill Magakoe / AFP)
People look at election results boards, at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Results Operations Centre on May 9, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa (Phill Magakoe / AFP)

The ruling African National Congress held a comfortable lead in South Africa’s presidential and parliamentary election with more than two-thirds of the vote counted Thursday, but the incomplete count showed the party received less support than in the last balloting five years ago.

Opposition parties made widespread allegations of corruption against the ANC, a major part of their campaigning, ahead of Wednesday’s election. Voter apathy appeared to have affected turnout, which fell to 65 percent from 74% in 2014.

The ANC, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, had 57% of the vote with 67% of polling districts counted, according to results announced by the electoral commission. It received 62% of the total vote five years ago.

Ramaphosa, 66, took over last year after the party forced then-president Jacob Zuma to resign after nine years dominated by corruption allegations and economic problems.

The ANC has been highly critical of Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians, accusing Israel of apartheid-like behavior.

Over the past year the government under Ramaphosa has downgraded ties with the Jewish state, recalling its ambassador over “the ongoing violation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”

Other parties grow their support

The Democratic Alliance received 22% of the vote so far, the most of any opposition party, about the same share it received in 2014.

DA party leader Mmusi Maimane campaigned vigorously on the corruption issue. Speaking at the electoral commission’s results center Thursday evening, he said his party appeals to South Africans of all races.

“We will never be a party for whites. We will never be a party for blacks,” said Maimane. “We are a party for all South Africans.”

The populist, left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, which also made graft a main campaign issue, increased its share of the vote to nearly 10% support.

More than 40 smaller parties also took part in the election.

President of South Africa and the African National Congress Cyril Ramaphosa (C) greets a voter as he arrives to cast his vote for the general elections at the Hitekani Primary School, Chiawelo, Soweto, on May 8, 2019 (Michele Spatari / AFP)

In South Africa, the president and parliament are not elected directly. The number of votes won by each party determines how many representatives are sent to the national 400-seat legislature. The president of the country is the leader of the party that gets the most votes.

Results from South Africa’s more remote areas are expected to trickle in, and electoral officials say final results may not be announced until Saturday.

Jessie Duarte, the ANC deputy secretary-general, said the partial results were neither a “disappointment” nor a “surprise”.

“What I think is important to recognise is the deepening of our democracy,” she said at the IEC in Pretoria.

“This is an election that will really offer the ANC a last chance to kickstart economic growth,” said analyst Daniel Silke. “The pressure is really on Ramaphosa in the next five years.”

South African main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane (L) reacts at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Results Operations Centre on May 9, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa (Phill Magakoe / AFP)

Ramaphosa has so far faced resistance to his reform agenda, especially from Zuma’s allies who still occupy several high-ranking positions in the party and government.

After casting his ballot on Wednesday, Ramaphosa said the election was “heralding a new dawn… a period of renewal, a period of hope”.

The ANC’s reputation was badly sullied under Zuma. Its support has fallen in every election since 2004 with the party taking 54 percent in 2016 municipal elections, compared with 62 percent in 2014’s national vote.

Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and the ANC were swept to power with a landslide in the country’s first multi-racial polls that marked the end of white minority rule in 1994.

Most opinion surveys before the vote had suggested the ANC would secure nearly 60 percent of the vote because of Ramaphosa’s appeal and a fractured opposition.

The ANC has been confronted by deepening public anger over its failure to tackle poverty and inequality in the post-apartheid era.

“We have given them 25 years but the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer,” said voter Anmareth Preece, 28, a teacher. “We need a government that governs for the people, not for themselves.”

The economy grew just 0.8% in 2018 and unemployment hovers around 27% — soaring to over 50% among young people.

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