South Africa’s likely next president Jacob Zuma was looking beyond today’s national vote, eager to set up a new government that he said will bring “visible change” to improve the lives of the country’s black majority.
Mr Zuma’s African National Congress party is expecting an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary election, which has generated an excitement not seen since the country’s first multiracial vote in 1994.
A record number of more than 23 million people have registered to vote and election officials are expecting a turnout of about 80%.
Parliament elects South Africa’s president, putting ANC leader Mr Zuma in line for the post when the new assembly votes in May.
The opposition has tried to paint the populist Mr Zuma, a former anti-apartheid guerrilla who has survived sex and corruption scandals, as corrupt and antidemocratic.
However, the ANC sees the 67-year-old Mr Zuma as its first leader since Nelson Mandela who is able to connect with voters.
The governing party 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 Aids epidemic.
Speaking to reporters on the eve of the vote, Mr Zuma acknowledged that ANC supporters are expecting “faster action and visible change in their lives”.
There have been concerns that Mr Zuma’s alliance with the Communists and the trade unions will make him veer from the market-friendly monetary policies of Mr Mandela’s successor as president, Thabo Mbeki.
Mr Mbeki was forced to step down last year as South Africa’s president after he was defeated by Mr Zuma in a bitter power struggle for the ANC leadership. Kgalema Motlanthe was appointed president of a caretaker government until Mr Zuma can take over.
“Going forward, we reiterate that the transition to a new government will be smooth,” Mr Zuma said, promising that a transition team was already at work on such issues as allotting Cabinet duties. He promised a more responsive and efficient executive.