Nasreen Seria and Carli Lourens
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress took a decisive lead from yesterday’s election with close to half of the votes counted, paving the way for Jacob Zuma to become president after graft charges against him were dropped.
The ANC won 66.9 percent of the 8.63 million votes counted so far, according to results published by the Independent Electoral Commission in Pretoria today. The Democratic Alliance got 16 percent and is leading in the Western Cape, the only province out of nine in which the ANC is not winning.
The ANC’s role in leading the struggle that ended white minority rule in 1994 still resonates with voters and may help maintain its two-thirds majority in Parliament, some pre- election surveys showed. That will enable the party to change the Constitution unilaterally at a time when Zuma’s backers, the labor unions and the Communist Party, are pushing him to pursue policies that will create jobs and cut poverty.
“The obsession of a two-thirds majority is in everyone’s minds, not in ours,” Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ruling African National Congress, told reporters at the IEC’s results centre in Pretoria today. “We have always talked about a decisive majority. The results so far are promising.”
The ANC’s support hasn’t suffered from an eight-year investigation by prosecutors into allegations that Zuma, 67, took bribes from arms dealers. The charges were dropped on allegations of political interference by the chief investigator.
A record 23.2 million South Africans registered to vote in yesterday’s election, where shortages of ballot papers in some metropolitan areas of the Gauteng, Western Cape and Free State provinces led to long queues at polling stations. Voter turnout from the areas assessed is 76.9 percent, compared with 76.7 percent in 2004.
Forty parties competed for seats in the 400-member national parliament and the provincial legislatures.
“I don’t think there is a particular desire to change the Constitution,” Adam Habib, a political analyst at the University of Johannesburg, said in an interview in Pretoria. “They’ve had two-thirds for the last seven years. Jacob Zuma wants to say, look, I got the two-thirds. If he loses it, his critics could say, look you lost us the two-thirds.”
Congress of the People, a breakaway party formed by dissident ANC members last year, received 7.9 percent of the votes cast.
The Inkatha Freedom Party, which won 6.97 percent in the 2004 election, has garnered 3.3 percent of the votes tallied so far. The party, led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, draws almost all of its backing from KwaZulu-Natal and has had its support diminished by the fact that Zuma is a Zulu, South Africa’s biggest ethnic group. Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s first two black presidents, were both Xhosa.
Zuma “is our man in KwaZulu-Natal and the ANC is the only big party that will help us,” Beauty Langa, an unemployed 33- year old, said yesterday as she queued to vote in Dududu, near Durban, the biggest city in the province. “Buthelezi has tried but nowadays the IFP is too small.”
Among the areas won by the Democratic Alliance was Robben Island, the site of a prison in which Mandela spent most of his 27 years in imprisonment.
The national currency, the rand, was trading at 8.9788 against the dollar as of 6:36 p.m. in Johannesburg, from 8.8850 late yesterday and 8.9700 the day before the elections.
‘Signal to the ANC’
“The fact that the ANC says it will not change the constitution is a positive,” Andrew Lister, a London-based emerging-market equities manager at Progressive Developing Markets, which oversees about $400 million. South Africa’s benchmark stock index rose as much as 2.7 percent, its first gain in six trading sessions.
Still, the ANC may see its support drop to as low as 65 percent of the vote, compared with 70 percent it got in 2004, said Steven Friedman, a political analyst in Johannesburg.
“This will be the first election where the vote declines for the ANC,” Friedman said in an interview. “It’s a signal to the ANC. If parties are confident that their support will keep growing, it makes them complacent. The fact that they are losing support could put pressure on them to listen more closely to their voters.”
Zuma, who ousted Mbeki as leader of the ruling party in December 2007, has promised to increase jobs to help slash a 21.9 percent unemployment rate, the highest of 62 countries tracked by Bloomberg, and increase child benefits. His biggest supporters have been labor unions and the South African Communist Party, which are pushing the ANC to ease budget restrictions and abolish the central bank’s policy of inflation- targeting.
Loyalty to the party has been reinforced by its provision of welfare grants to one in four South Africans, while the opposition hasn’t capitalized on the ANC’s struggle to create jobs and curb one of the world’s highest crime rates.