South Africa Counts Votes as Ramaphosa’s ANC Looks to Retain Power

By Alexander Winning and Mfuneko Toyana

PRETORIA – South African elections officials counted ballot papers early on Thursday, a day after a vote seen as the toughest test yet for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party 25 years after it swept to power.

President of South Africa’s governing African National Congress Cyril Ramaphosa gestures during the party’s final rally at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The elections for a new parliament and nine provincial legislatures are the first barometer of national sentiment since President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018.

Opinion polls suggest the ANC will again win a majority of the parliament’s 400 seats, but analysts say its margin of victory may fall from the 62 percent of the vote it secured in the last election in 2014 because of frustration with slow progress addressing racial disparities in income and wealth.

The ANC’s biggest challengers at these elections are the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The DA won 22 percent of the parliamentary vote in 2014 and the EFF six percent.

Most polling stations closed around 1900 GMT on Wednesday.

Results from some smaller voting districts started to trickle in on Thursday morning. As of 0330 GMT, more than 1.3 million votes had been processed out of around 26.8 million registered voters.

In the parliamentary vote the ANC was on around 53 percent, with the DA on 28 percent and the EFF on seven percent, with a turnout of 64 percent.

Just before 07h00 – with nearly 18 percent of the votes tallied – the ANC’s lead remained at 53 percent, the DA at 27.3 percent and the EFF had 7.8 percent.

A full tally may not be known until Saturday.

Elections officials said voting had in general progressed smoothly but that there had been isolated incidents where bad weather, unscheduled power outages or community protests had caused disruptions. The electoral commission said it was investigating two potential instances of double-voting.

“The Electoral Commission will not allow the potential misconduct of one or two individuals to taint the overall outcome of these elections,” the commission said in a statement.

The ANC achieved its best parliamentary election result in 2004, under former president Thabo Mbeki, when it won 69 percent of the vote. But its support fell under Zuma, and it lost control of big cities like the commercial capital Johannesburg in local government elections in 2016.

The ANC currently controls eight of the country’s nine provinces. Analysts predict the provincial races for Gauteng, where Johannesburg and the administrative capital Pretoria are located, and the Western Cape, home to Cape Town, will be close.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning and Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

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