World

Ruling ANC poised for re-election in South Africa, but with reduced power

The African National Congress was headed toward victory in South Africa's election on Friday, according to partial early results - but the party was on course for its worst performance in a national poll in its 25 years in government.

Early results give the party lowest level of support since it swept to power in 1994

Leader of South Africa's governing African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa, cast his ballot at a polling station for the country's parliamentary and provincial elections earlier this week. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

The African National Congress (ANC) held a commanding lead on Friday in South Africa's parliamentary election with 90 per cent of the voting districts counted, according to the electoral commission's website.

The ANC led with 57.38 per cent, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) had 21.01 per cent and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had garnered 10.33 per cent.

The former liberation party of Nelson Mandela has not won less than a 60 per cent share of the vote since it swept to power in South Africa's first all-race election in 1994, marking the end of white minority rule.

A poor showing for the ANC would embolden opponents of President Cyril Ramaphosa and risk a potential challenge to his leadership, analysts have said.

In the first national test at the ballot box for Ramaphosa, South Africans voted on Wednesday for a new parliament and nine provincial legislatures. They had expressed frustration at rampant corruption, high unemployment and racial inequalities that remain deeply entrenched.

Ramaphosa is trying to stop a slide in support for Africa's oldest liberation movement, whose tenure in the last decade was punctuated by corruption scandals, a stagnant economy and high unemployment.

"People have shown they are willing to forgive the ANC," said Ronald Lamola, a member of the ANC's top governing body. "We are looking at a clear mandate for our policies."

An electoral worker empties a ballot box for counting in view of party agents after the close of polls. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

With promises to fight corruption, improve public services and put people into jobs, Ramaphosa won an internal party leadership election in December 2017, narrowly defeating a faction allied with former head of state Jacob Zuma. Ramaphosa replaced the scandal-plagued Zuma as president of Africa's most advanced economy three months later.

But his efforts have been constrained by divisions within his own party, where some Zuma supporters still retain influence and oppose his agenda.

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

Voter apathy appeared to have affected turnout, which fell to 65 per cent from 74 per cent in 2014. 

Election officials said voting in general had progressed smoothly but that there had been isolated disruptions caused by bad weather, unscheduled power outages or community protests.

Voter turnout fell to about 64%, down from 74% in 2014. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

With files from The Associated Press

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