South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) was leading nationwide parliamentary elections based on preliminary results yesterday that, if confirmed, would propel Jacob Zuma to the presidency in a remarkable feat for a man once embroiled in sex and corruption scandals.
Though an ANC victory is expected, the party is less sure of whether it can hold onto its two-thirds majority in what has become South Africa’s most contested election since 1994.
Preliminary results from 2.8 million ballots counted early yesterday — or an estimated 15 percent of Wednesday’s vote — show the ANC leading with 63 percent. Final results were expected late yesterday or possibly today.
But opposition groups were showing strong support. The largely white opposition Democratic Alliance, based on the preliminary count, had about 20 percent and was expected to take the key Western Cape Province from the ANC. Early results for the province put the Democratic Alliance at about 54 percent to the ANC’s 26 percent.
The Congress of the People — formed by a breakaway faction of the ANC last year — was trailing with just over 7 percent in preliminary results, despite expectations that it would post a serious challenge to the ruling party.
Turnout was heavy, with an estimated 80 percent of a record 23 million registered voters casting ballots. Some stations had temporary ballot shortages or struggled because ballot boxes filled so quickly.
The ANC has swept every poll since the first post-apartheid election in 1994. In 2004, the ANC won 69.9 percent of the vote.
As parliament elects South Africa’s president, another victory for the party would likely see an ANC-controlled assembly anoint Zuma as the nation’s leader next month.
But the party needs to keep its two-thirds majority to enact major budgetary plans or legislation unchallenged, or to change the constitution.
The opposition tried to paint Zuma as corrupt, anti-democratic and intent on plotting with communists to destroy the hard-won economic gains since apartheid ended.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille described Zuma on Wednesday as “a one-man Constitution-wrecking machine.”
The ANC 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.
The ANC launched its election campaign with promises of heavy public spending to create jobs and improve education and health. But with Western economies slowing, demand for South African exports has declined and production has dropped, causing some layoffs and fears of more. At the end of the campaign, Zuma was talking not about creating jobs, but staving off job losses.
Zuma, 67, was fired by former South African president Mbeki as deputy president in 2005 after he was implicated in an arms deal bribery scandal. After a series of protracted legal battles, prosecutors dropped all charges against him earlier this month, saying the case had been manipulated for political reasons and the criminal charges would never be revived.
But they said they still believed they had a strong case against Zuma.
In 2006, the former guerrilla leader was acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend. But he has been ridiculed for his testimony during the trial that he believed showering after the encounter, which he said was consensual, would protect him from AIDS.