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South Africa's ANC expected to retain power, but risks worst performance in 25 years

Results from nearly half of voting districts in South Africa's election put the African National Congress on course to retain power, but at risk of its worst performance in a national poll since the end of white minority rule 25 years ago.

Cyril Ramaphosa replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February

President Cyril Ramaphosa greets supporters after casting his vote at a primary school in Soweto, Johannesburg on Wednesday. He's hoping his party holds on to power. (Ben Curtis/The Associated Press)

Results from nearly half of voting districts in South Africa's election put the African National Congress on course to retain power, but at risk of its worst performance in a national poll since the end of white minority rule 25 years ago.

As of 10 a.m. ET on Thursday, votes in 48 per cent of 22,925 voting districts had been counted. The early tallies had ANC leading with 57 per cent in the parliamentary race, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) had nearly 23 per cent and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had nearly nine per cent.

Based on those results, political analyst Melanie Verwoerd predicted the ANC was set for a vote share of 56 to 57 per cent.

The former liberation party of Nelson Mandela has not taken less than 60 per cent of votes in a national election since it swept to power in South Africa's first all-race poll in 1994.

ANC image tarnished by scandals

South Africans voting for a new parliament and nine provincial legislatures had expressed frustration at rampant corruption, high unemployment and racial inequalities that persist in the country. 

The elections are the first barometer of national sentiment since President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018.

Ramaphosa is trying to arrest a slide in support for the ANC, which has won every parliamentary vote since the end of apartheid in 1994, but whose image has been tarnished by corruption scandals and a weak economy in the past decade.

A full tally may not be known until Saturday.

Elections officials said voting had in general progressed smoothly, but that there had been isolated incidents where bad weather, unscheduled power outages or community protests had caused disruptions. The electoral commission said it was investigating two potential instances of double voting.

An independent electoral officer begins to count the ballot papers at the Addington Primary School after voting ended at the sixth national general elections in Durban, South Africa. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP/Getty Images)

"The Electoral Commission will not allow the potential misconduct of one or two individuals to taint the overall outcome of these elections," the commission said in a statement.

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

The ANC currently controls eight of the country's nine provinces, with the DA in power in the Western Cape. Analysts predict the provincial races for Gauteng, where Johannesburg and the administrative capital Pretoria are located, and the Western Cape, home to Cape Town, will be close.

Ramaphosa, who became ANC leader in December 2017 after narrowly defeating a faction allied with Zuma, has promised to improve poor public services, create jobs and fight corruption.

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

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