Pretoria, South Africa | AFP | South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ruling ANC was in touching distance of election victory Friday but with diminished support, complicating efforts to revive the country’s flagging economy and fight corruption, results showed.
The African National Congress (ANC), in power since 1994, held a very comfortable lead with nearly 57 percent after four-fifths of voting districts were officially tallied following Wednesday’s vote.
But the result would be the party’s worst national showing since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the first multi-racial polls after apartheid ended in 1994.
Ramaphosa, 66, took over last year when the party forced then-president Jacob Zuma to resign after nine years dominated by corruption allegations and economic problems.
“We’re going to be the government, whether there is decline or increase,” said the ANC’s chairman Gwede Mantashe late on Thursday.
Results released by the IEC showed the ANC’s closest rival, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) trailing with a distant 22 percent of the vote.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, founded six years ago by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was in third place with 10 percent.
Final results are expected to be officially certified on Saturday.
A new projection by South Africa’s respected Council for Scientific and Industrial Research forecast the ANC would win with 57 percent — a five percentage point drop from the last election in 2014.
– ‘A period of hope’? –
The party that wins the most seats in parliament selects the president, who will be sworn in on May 25.
“The ANC are being given a chance,” said political analyst Lumkile Mondi. “This is an opportunity for them to reincarnate themselves.”
“The ANC is never going to perform any better, it’s a dying party, it continues shedding votes — because it does not have economic management capability.”
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 elections that marked the end of white minority rule in 1994.
Most opinion polls before the election had suggested the ANC would secure nearly 60 percent of the vote because of Ramaphosa’s appeal and a fractured opposition.
Forty-eight parties contested the elections — a record number.
The conservative and predominantly white Freedom Front Plus party, founded in 1994 during the negotiations to end apartheid, was performing unexpectedly well as the fifth biggest party in the vote.
– ‘Jugular vein of the ANC’ –
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 percent in 2018 and unemployment hovers around 27 percent — soaring to over 50 percent among young people.
“(We) liberated this country so we would have expected more,” said ANC spokesman Dakota Legoete. “(But) in 2014 we did not have 48 parties… now we have 48 parties, 47 of them are competing for the jugular vein of the ANC.”
The main opposition DA is hoping to shed its image as a white, middle-class party with its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, contesting his first general election since taking the helm in 2015.
“Even though we’ve lost some votes, we’ve held the centre — and I will lead that project going forward,” he told reporters at the results centre.
“It may not have happened this time, but come 2021, 2024 (elections) we can demonstrate… that we can hold South Africans together.”
Malema’s EFF is predicted to make major gains, growing from 6.3 percent to a forecast 11 percent.
“We got into the race for significant change,” said EFF secretary general Godrich Gardee.
Mandla Booi, 45, a voter in Port Elizabeth on the south coast, said “the ANC has taken people for granted”.
“There is some arrogance which has crept in.”
About 26.8 million people were registered to vote but only an estimated 65 percent did so.