S. Africa's ruling party heads to resounding victory

ANC is likely to surpass two-thirds majority mark

April 16, 2004|By Samson Mulugeta | Samson Mulugeta,NEWSDAY

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Election results showed the African National Congress headed yesterday for a sweeping victory that would give it a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the power to unilaterally change the constitution.

Nearly complete returns from Wednesday's voting showed the ANC winning seven of the country's nine provinces and leading in the remaining two, and enjoying even greater support than it did in the historic 1994 vote that ended white-minority rule and brought Nelson Mandela to power.

Ten years ago, the ANC won with 63 percent of the vote. Five years later, it achieved about 66 percent. With 70 percent of Wednesday's votes counted, the ANC had garnered 69 percent of the national vote.

That clears the way for ANC leader Thabo Mbeki, 61, to be elected to his second presidential term when the new National Assembly convenes next week to choose the president.

"This decisive mandate is a critical foundation for the building of a people's contract to better the lives of all South Africans," the party said in a statement. While the ANC's victory was never in doubt, its strong showing surprised some analysts who had predicted voters would lash out against the party for not doing more to fight poverty, high crime and a raging AIDS epidemic.

But many South Africans interviewed while standing in long voting lines Wednesday expressed confidence that the ANC was taking the nation in the right direction.

The toughest opposition came from the Democratic Alliance, which had about 13 percent of the vote. Democratic leader Anthony Leon said he would continue to expand his party's appeal beyond whites and some Indians and mixed-race voters.

"Our support in black communities has grown since 1999, but we still have much more work to do," he told supporters.

The Inkatha Freedom Party of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, based in the Zulu stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal Province, was running third with 5 percent of the vote.

The biggest loser was the New National Party, successor to the apartheid-era National Party.

Its share of support slid below 2 percent, compared with 1994, when it won 22 percent, and 1999, when it achieved 7 percent. The party's former leader and South Africa's last white president, F.W. de Klerk, who legalized the ANC and negotiated the end of apartheid with Mandela, said the results should stand as a warning to South Africans.

"The African National Congress still wields more power than is healthy in a democracy," he said in a statement.

With African leaders from Uganda to Namibia threatening to amend their constitutions to allow for third terms, some opposition leaders have charged that Mbeki might try something similar. The current constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms, meaning that this will be Mbeki's last. He has denied that he plans to try to extend his rule.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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