South Africa Heading for ‘Coalition Country’ as Partial Election Results Have the ANC Below 50%

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa was heading closer to the reality of a national coalition government for the first time Friday as partial election results put the ruling African National Congress well short of a majority.

With more than half of votes counted across the country’s nine provinces, the ANC had received just under 42% of the national vote, according to the early results as counting continued. That represented a huge drop from the 57.5% it received in the last national election in 2019, although the final results from Wednesday’s election have not yet been declared.

The commission that runs the election said those would be announced by Sunday, possibly sooner.

The count from more than 13,000 of the 23,000 polling stations raised the strong possibility that the ANC would need a coalition partner to form a government and reelect President Cyril Ramaphosa for a second and final term. The frenzied negotiations were likely set to start behind closed doors.

The leader of South Africa’s main opposition party said he was open to working with the ANC, although he would have to first speak with a group of other parties that he has a preelection agreement with.

“The way to rescue South Africa is to break the ANC’s majority and we have done that,” said John Steenhuisen, the leader of the Democratic Alliance party. “They are going to end up in the low forties and that obviously opens up a whole new universe for politics in South Africa and to start building something better for the people of South Africa.”

“We have to wait for the results to end before we can start any major discussions,” he added.

Steenhuisen had said on election day: “All bets are off in this election. We’re heading into coalition country.”

The ANC had the most votes by some way in the partial count, as expected, with the Democratic Alliance second on around 24%. The ANC is widely expected to still be the biggest party and to have the most seats in Parliament.

But while opposition parties were hailing what might turn out to be the most significant shift in South African politics in three decades, the pressure to get a coalition government in place quickly may now come to the fore, with analysts saying the longer that takes, the more chance of market instability.

The ANC has said little on its possible coalition partners despite the issue dominating South Africa’s political analysis for months ahead of the election.

The various parties — South Africa has at least four that could be considered major parties — may now “be faced with a reality that they have to work together” to deal with the country’s challenges, said Joleen Steyn-Kotze, a senior research specialist on democracy at South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council.

The coalition negotiations will depend on how far the ANC falls short of a majority in the final results, if indeed it remains under 50%. If it’s just short of a majority, it could approach several smaller parties to get past 50%. If it is some way off — as it was in the latest results — it might have to work with one of the two main opposition parties, the centrist Democratic Alliance and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters. They have very different ideologies. A third major party, the MK of former South African President Jacob Zuma, has said it won’t work with the ANC.

Analysts say an ANC-EFF coalition could spook investors given the EFF’s pledge to nationalize parts of South Africa’s economy, the most developed on the African continent. The inclusion of the business-friendly DA in a coalition government would be welcomed by investors, according to Aleix Montana, the southern Africa analyst at the British-based risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

The ANC has had a clear majority for all 30 years of South Africa’s democracy since the party swept to power in a 1994 election which officially ended the apartheid system of white minority rule, leading Nelson Mandela to become the country’s first Black president. It has been the dominant political force and its slipping below 50% would be a momentous change for South Africa.

The ANC’s support has steadily declined from a high of nearly 70% of the vote 20 years ago as South Africa grapples with deep socioeconomic problems, including widespread poverty and now one of the worst unemployment rates in the world at 32%. Poverty and unemployment disproportionately affect South Africa’s Black majority that make up 80% of the population and were the core of the ANC’s support over the years.

While the inequalities of apartheid were always going to be hard to solve, and the ANC was praised for making progress in its first 10 years in government, it is now being blamed by many for failures in basic government services, numerous corruption scandals and most recently an electricity crisis that led to rolling blackouts across the country of 62 million.

A projection from a government agency and national broadcaster SABC, based on vote returns, was estimating on Friday that the ANC would end up with just over 40%, a drop of around 17 percentage points, which would be a stunning result in the context of South Africa.



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