South Africa's ANC Eyes Largest Victory Yet

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) was poised Friday to win its largest majority yet, hovering just under the 70 percent mark in the country's third democratic election.

With 88 percent of votes counted Friday morning, the ANC held 69.6 percent of the vote, with the opposition Democratic Alliance far behind with 12.7 percent. No other party made double figures.

The once powerful National Party, which pioneered the racial segregation policy known as apartheid in 1948, was faring exceptionally poorly at under two percent.

It was the worst showing for the party, rebranded as the New National Party, which achieved 20 percent in South Africa's first non-racial election 10 years ago and then dropped to just under seven percent in 1999.

Voters went to polling stations to select a 400-member National Assembly and nine provincial legislatures.

President and ANC leader Thabo Mbeki, set for a second five-year term in office when the new parliament votes for a president on April 23, had an easy campaign, thanks to lack of a strong opposition and the fact that 21 parties were vying for the opposition vote.

The ANC enjoys the support of the vast majority of the predominantly black population, because it is seen as the party that achieved "liberation" from minority white rule in 1994, having opposed it inside the country and from exile for most of the 20th century.

Even in KwaZulu-Natal, the one province where ANC dominance has been challenged by the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Mbeki's party was running eight points ahead of the IFP.

The ANC holds power in seven of South Africa's nine provinces, and while it looked set for a plurality in the other two - KwaZulu-Natal and Western Province - it may be denied control there by coalitions of rival parties.

Despite its huge majority, the ANC faces huge challenges ahead. South Africans expect the new government to tackle the rising unemployment now averaging 30 percent, rampant crime and spiraling HIV-AIDS rates.

Unusual for an election in Africa, the South African poll was not monitored by foreign observers, and no serious violence or charges of vote rigging were reported.

Kenyan-based political science scholar Kimaita Mong'are said the absence of foreign observers was evidence that "democracy is taking root in Africa."

He said the development was very welcome and "a credit to both the people and the leaders. I believe this is an example that some African nations will try to replicate."

A word of caution came from F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, who together with the then-ANC leader Nelson Mandela won the Nobel peace prize in 1993 for their efforts to end apartheid.

De Klerk said the elections had been a success from a security and logistical point of view, but the ANC's huge majority meant it "wields more power than is healthy for any democracy."

Rather than increase their joint share of the vote, the numerous opposition parties had "once again played musical chairs," managing only to maintain, or even to reduce, it.

"Voting patterns have once again been influenced far too much by race and ethnicity," de Klerk said.

South Africa has a population of 45 million, of which 79 percent are black, 10 percent white, nine percent "colored" or mixed race and two percent of Asian origin.

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