South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is on course to win parliamentary elections with almost all votes counted, despite losing support amid widespread anger over corruption and high unemployment.
Results announced by South Africa’s electoral commission on Friday said the ANC, headed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, had won 57.7 percent of the vote during Wednesday’s poll with more than 96 percent of votes counted. The party, which has been in power since 1994, won 62 percent support at the last general election in 2014.
Wednesday’s performance put the ANC well ahead of its nearest rivals the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, who won 20 percent of the vote, according to the electoral commission’s figures.
The Economic Freedom Fighters, founded six years ago by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was in third place with 10.51 percent.
In South Africa, the president and parliament are not elected directly. The number of votes won by each party determines how many representatives are sent to the national 400-seat legislature. The president of the country is the leader of the party that gets the most votes.
Ramaphosa promises corruption crackdown
The ANC’s lead, despite its reduced margin, means the party will be mathematically assured of more than 50 percent of votes cast in the final official tally, due to be announced on Saturday.
The result is expected to give Ramaphosa a mandate to continue his bid to cut unemployment and clean up corruption within his party, which inspired South Africa under Nelson Mandela‘s leadership and was victorious in the first multiracial polls after apartheid ended in 1994.
South Africa’s economy, the second-largest on the continent, grew just 0.8 percent in 2018. Overall unemployment, meanwhile, hovers at around 27 percent, with more than 50 percent of young people out of work.
Ramaphosa has so far faced resistance to his reform agenda, however, especially from former President Jacob Zuma‘s allies who still occupy several high-ranking positions in the party and government.
Zuma was pressured to resign as president last year after a nine-year term in office tainted by numerous corruption scandals and a major economic slowdown.
Ramaphosa served as deputy president for the final four years of Zuma’s tenure before being elected unopposed as his replacement by the National Assembly in February last year.
During campaigning for this year’s vote, Ramaphosa acknowledged the problem of corruption in ANC ranks and pledged not to have any double-dealing members in his cabinet.
After casting his ballot on Wednesday, the 66-year-old said the election was “heralding a new dawn … a period of renewal, a period of hope”.
But voter apathy appeared high, with only about 65 percent of the nearly 27 million people registered to vote participating in the ballot.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from the electoral commission’s headquarters in Pretoria, said that about a quarter of eligible voters also opted not to register to take part in the ballot.
“It looks like the lowest turnout there has ever been in an election in South Africa since the end of Apartheid and democracy began in 1994,” Webb said.
There were also allegations of electoral misconduct, with 35 smaller parties jointly lodging a complaint to the electoral commission on Friday complaining of irregularities and calling for an audit of the vote and a possible rerun of the poll.