Johannesburg, South Africa – With more than 50 percent of votes counted in South Africa’s general election, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party looks set to maintain power, despite gains for opposition parties.
By late Thursday afternoon in South Africa, the ANC had captured about 57 percent of the vote. The centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) had about 23 percent and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party was nearing 10 percent.
The final results are expected to be announced on Saturday.
Statistics from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) showed turnout was about 65 percent, down from some 73 percent in 2014 and a reflection of growing disenchantment with both the ruling ANC and the political system more generally. Turnout was particularly low among the youth and in underprivileged townships, a number of which erupted in service delivery protests in the days leading up to the poll.
According to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the ANC will likely get 58 percent of the final vote count, a marked dip in performance from 2014’s elections, when the party got 62 percent of the vote. The ANC has never polled below 60 percent in general elections since the dawn of South Africa’s democracy 25 years ago but has been beset by a raft of scandals and economic crises in recent years.
However, Sithembile Mbete, a political analyst, cautioned: “The early results are always somewhat skewed because certain areas come in earlier than others.”
‘Backlash against centrist politics’
Mbete also told Al Jazeera that two interesting opposition trends had emerged so far: the right-wing Freedom Front Plus picking up votes at the expense of the DA and the EFF, in only its second election, picking up votes at the expense of the ANC.
“I think that we are seeing the same kind of backlash against centrist politics that you’ve seen in the rest of the world,” Mbete added.
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, some political commentators predicted that the ANC might lose its outright majority in provinces such as Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and therefore be forced to form coalitions with opposition parties. But based on early results, the ANC will likely avoid such an eventuality, Mbete said.
Despite the likely decrease in its majority, ANC leaders have expressed positivity about the vote count so far, while EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi told reporters: “What is definitive is that we are part of the race. The EFF is represented in every province. You can already see that our growth is right on the way.”
DA spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the party was concerned about claims of double voting and an apparent shortage of ballot papers at some voting stations.
In a press release issued late on Wednesday night, hours after the polls had closed, the IEC assured voters of the integrity of the elections. Election officials interviewed by Al Jazeera said that by and large things had run smoothly.
“We can have an electoral body that is credible and really one of the best at what it does in the world and we can have people having voted multiple times and we can have a system for being able to check that and we can have an election where there were some places where scanners didn’t work properly. All of those things can be true at the same time,” said Mbete of widespread criticism of the IEC on social media on Wednesday.
In the sprawling Cape Town township of Khayelitsha, which experienced various glitches and interruptions at certain voting stations due to protest activity, Buntu Matole, 31, a social entrepreneur, said he thought the process had been handled well overall. Matole voted ANC, telling Al Jazeera in a phone call that he was a “loyal citizen and loyal to his political party”.