ANC falls one seat shy of goal of winning two-thirds majority

Opposition parties, market relieved after parliamentary vote count

June 08, 1999|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The ruling African National Congress failed by a single seat to win the two-thirds parliamentary majority it sought in last week's election, according to final vote results released last night.

Voters effectively handed the party, led by president-in-waiting Thabo Mbeki, an overwhelming victory, with 66.5 percent of the vote, while barely withholding the ultimate veto-proof, constitution-amending legislative power.

This relaxed opposition parties, which feared ANC might tinker with the constitution, and international markets, which worried about a possible threat to the independence of the South African reserve bank. The rand rallied yesterday to 6.08 to the dollar, its strongest level since the election Wednesday.

The official vote count gave the ANC 266 seats in the 400-member National Assembly, the white-backed Democratic Party 38 seats, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party 34 seats and the New National Party, the former party of apartheid, 28 seats. Thirteen parties will be represented in the new parliament, which convenes later this month, compared with seven parties in the last one.

The Democratic Party, with 9.5 percent of the vote, assumed the mantle of official opposition from the New National Party, which has been reduced to a regional political force, with its only toehold on power in the Western Cape province.

The Democrats, led by the energetic Tony Leon, garnered support through an aggressive "fight back" campaign, urging voters -- mainly whites -- to resist the lower standards of health, education and other government services blamed on the ANC.

The Nationalists, devastated by their drop to 7 percent from 20 percent support five years ago, met in secret yesterday to discuss the fate of their leader, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who ran an ineffective campaign and is known as "short pants" because of his boyish appearance.

As the final tally was released, negotiations were under way to form coalition governments in the two provinces -- KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape -- in which no party won an outright majority. The ANC retained control of the seven other provinces.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the political maneuvering focused on a power-sharing deal between Inkatha, which won 34 seats in the provincial assembly, and the ANC, which came in second with 32 seats.

The most likely scenario was that the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, minister of home affairs in the Mandela government, would be given another senior position in the new ANC-led federal government, perhaps as Mbeki's deputy president or as a senior cabinet member. In return, the ANC would control the provincial premiership.

Such an accord could help end the political violence that has troubled the province since before the end of apartheid.

In the Western Cape, the ANC won 18 provincial seats against the NNP's 17.

The negotiations last night were centered on partnership among the Nationalists, the Democrats -- supported mainly by voters of mixed race or whites -- and the small conservative black African Christian Democratic Party.

Should they exclude the black-dominated ANC, political outrage is feared, particularly in the black townships surrounding Cape Town.

The other focus of intense speculation was the formation of the Mbeki cabinet, expected to be announced before the June 16 inauguration of the president and certain to be charged with accelerated delivery of services to an impatient majority.

Pub Date: 6/08/99

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