South African elections results released today show the African National Congress might have fallen short of winning its cherished two-thirds parliamentary majority.
But the count affirmed the ruling party’s overall victory and set the stage for the controversial Jacob Zuma’s rise to the presidency.
The near-complete results also showed that the ANC lost power in the country’s second richest province because of hostility from mixed-race voters and conservative whites.
Mr Zuma’s supporters have been celebrating since shortly after the voting ended on Wednesday as his party’s victory wasn’t seriously in doubt.
The ANC views Mr Zuma as the first leader who can energise voters since the legendary Nelson Mandela.
But others say Mr Zuma is too beholden to unions and leftists, and will not be able to fulfil his promises of creating jobs and a stronger social safety net. At the end of the campaign, Mr Zuma was talking not about creating jobs, but staving off job losses.
His warmth and rise from poverty to political prominence have drawn adoring crowds throughout the election campaign, although critics question whether he can implement his populist agenda amid the global economic meltdown.
The nearly complete voting results show that more than 77% of the country’s 23 million registered voters cast ballots.
With 17.6 million votes counted, the ANC had 66.02%.
That gives the ANC a clear parliamentary majority, but appears short of its goal of winning a two-thirds of the 400 seats.
The ANC needs to keep its two-thirds majority to enact major budgetary plans or legislation unchallenged, or to change the constitution.
However, the final number of seats in Parliament is based on a complicated formula and has yet to be determined. Election officials are expected to announce results formally later today once outstanding objections have been resolved.
The ANC swept South Africa’s first post-apartheid election in 1994 and the two following that. In 2004, it took 69.69% 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.
While it was the country’s fourth peaceful multiracial vote since the end of apartheid in 1994, the results in the Western Cape were a reminder that South Africa’s racial divides still run deep.
The province is the heart of the country’s wine and tourism industries, and also a region where mixed-race voters account for more than half the population while they are a small minority nationwide.
They were treated better than blacks under apartheid’s racist rules; now many feel marginalised and forgotten.
“I voted ANC at the first elections, but never again. Never, never. They don’t look after us,” voter Desmonia Goff said.
The largely white Democratic Alliance aggressively courted mixed-race voters ahead of Wednesday’s vote and was close to gaining an outright majority in the provincial legislature there.
The ANC had no hope of catching up, trailing with less than one-third of the vote, ahead of smaller opposition parties. It was a humiliating setback for the ruling party, which otherwise maintained its grip on power.
Zwelinzima Vavi, head of the national trade union movement and one of the ANC’s most influential figures, said the Western Cape result was “disappointing but not surprising.
“The ANC (in the Western Cape) had been deeply hurt by infighting and factional battles that have run for five years,” he said.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, who has won praise for her stint as mayor of Cape Town, said ahead of the elections that her main goals were to stop the ANC’s two thirds majority and to win the Western Cape.
Hundreds of supporters – most of them mixed-race – greeted her when she returned to Cape Town after monitoring election results in Pretoria. Even baggage handlers and security staff danced for joy. An airline passenger with an ANC T-shirt was loudly jeered.
“The Western Cape will set an example for the whole country, for democracy in South Africa,” she told them in an impromptu thank you speech in the airport parking lot.
Mixed race people – many of whom trace their ancestry back to Malay slaves - enjoyed more rights than blacks under apartheid’s racist rules, and emerged sceptical of the ANC, which they see as a black party.
The ANC, though, has support from some mixed race South Africans and whites across South Africa, and politicians from both groups have prominent roles in the party.