Partial count in South Africa election puts ruling ANC below 50% as country senses monumental change

Partial results in South Africa’s national election have put the long-ruling African National Congress at less than 50% of the vote

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Partial results in South Africa's national election put the long-ruling African National Congress at below 50% of the vote as counting continued Thursday, raising the possibility that it might lose its majority for the first time since it swept to power under Nelson Mandela at the end of apartheid in 1994.

With around 20% of votes counted and declared, it was only a partial picture after Wednesday's election. The final results of a vote that could bring the biggest political shift in South Africa's young democracy were expected to take days, with the independent electoral commission saying they would be delivered by Sunday, although they could come earlier.

South Africans were waiting with baited breath to see if their country, Africa's most advanced economy, was about to see momentous change. Some analysts said the early results already presented a never-before-seen picture with regards to how far the long dominant ANC was below the 50% mark in the early results.

“I think we are seeing a massive change in South African politics,” political analyst Prof. Susan Booysen said on SABC TV, the national broadcaster.

The electoral commission was projecting a 70% voter turnout in this election, up from the 66% in the last national election in 2019. The ANC won 57.5% of the vote in that last election, its worst performance to date.

This election was seen as a direct referendum on the unbroken three-decade rule of the ANC, which freed South Africa from the oppressive, racist apartheid regime in the famous all-race vote of 1994 but has seen a steady decrease in its popularity over the last 20 years.

This year could be the tipping point when most South Africans turn away from the ANC and deny it a majority for the first time.

The results that had been declared were from less than 5,000 of the more than 23,000 polling stations across the nine provinces that make up South Africa and there was a long way to go in the counting process. The partial results put the ANC at 43% of the vote.

Nearly 28 million people out of South Africa's population of 62 million were registered to take part in the election. The burning question their votes will answer is if the ANC's dominance of South Africa's post-apartheid democracy will come to an end. Several opinion polls had gauged the ANC's support at below 50% ahead of the election, an unprecedented situation.

South African President and ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa said after voting Wednesday that he was still confident his party would get a “firm majority,” but it is faced with more opposition than ever. ANC deputy secretary-general Nomvula Mokonyane said on SABC Thursday: “We remain optimistic.”

The political opposition to the ANC is spread amongst an array of other parties, however, and the ANC was still widely expected to be the biggest party and have the most seats in Parliament. It was well ahead of its nearest challenger, the main opposition Democratic Alliance, in the early count, and that was expected.

But if the ANC's share of the vote does drop below 50% for the first time, it would likely need a coalition to remain in government and an agreement with others to reelect Ramaphosa. That has never happened before.

South Africans vote for parties and not directly for their president in national elections. Those parties then get seats in Parliament according to their share of the vote and lawmakers elect the president. The ANC has always had a clear parliamentary majority since 1994 and so the president has always been from the ANC.

Though a large majority of votes were still to be counted, the early results had put the Democratic Alliance at around 25% and the Economic Freedom Fighters party at around 8%. The partial results also reflected the possible immediate impact of the new MK Party of former President Jacob Zuma, who has turned against the ANC he once led and added to their loss of support. The MK Party had the fourth biggest share of the early count in its first election.

The electoral commission's prediction of a high turnout reflected Wednesday's scene across the country, as South Africans queued deep into the night to make their choice and the long, snaking lines of voters revived memories for some of the definitive election of 1994 that changed a country.

While polls officially closed at 9 p.m., voting continued for hours after that in many places as officials noted a late surge of late ballots being cast in major cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. The electoral commission said the last votes were cast around 3 a.m. The rules say that anyone queuing at a voting station by the closing time must be allowed to vote.

The determination of South Africans standing out in the chilly winter weather into the middle of the night suggested millions had embraced how consequential this election might be for their nation.

South Africa is Africa's most advanced country but has struggled to solve a profuse inequality that has kept millions in poverty three decades after the segregation of apartheid ended. That inequality and widespread poverty disproportionately affects the Black majority that make up more than 80% of the country's population. South Africa has one of the worst unemployment rates in the world and also struggles with a high rate of violent crime.

Voters noted those issues and others, like ANC corruption scandals over the years and problems with basic government services, as their main grievances.

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Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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