Results from 68% of voting districts in South Africa’s election put the ANC on course to retain power but at risk of its worst performance in a national poll in 25 years.
As of 11pm on Thursday, 68% of votes had been counted. The early tallies put the ANC on 56.5% in the parliamentary race, with the main opposition DA on nearly 22.6% and the EFF on nearly 9.85%.
Based on those results, political analyst Melanie Verwoerd predicted the ANC was set for a vote share of 56% to 57%.
The former liberation party of Nelson Mandela has not taken less than 60% of votes in a national election since it swept to power in South Africa's first all-race poll in 1994.
“The ANC result is going to be lower because of voter turnout, which could be the lowest at any parliamentary election since 1994,” Verwoerd said.
“Turnout has been lower in areas where more black voters live, while the turnout has been higher in the white areas.”
South Africans voting on Wednesday for a new Parliament and nine provincial legislatures had expressed frustration at rampant corruption, high unemployment and racial inequalities.
Analysts have said that a poor showing for the ANC would embolden opponents of President Cyril Ramaphosa and risk a potential leadership challenge against him. The elections are the first test of national sentiment since Ramaphosa replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018.
“As long as the ANC gets more than 55%, things will be okay for Ramaphosa inside the ANC,” Verwoerd said.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research also forecast a decline in support for the ANC, which it predicted would get just over 57% in the parliamentary vote and about 50% in the provincial polls.
Turnout on Wednesday was just over 65%, according to the votes processed so far, the Electoral Commission said.
ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte said she expected the ANC’s vote share to grow as results from larger voting districts filtered through.
Duarte said voter turnout could end up below the 65% to 70% range the ANC estimated late on Wednesday when most polling stations had closed.
Chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said the Electoral Commission hoped that results from around 90% of voting districts would be declared by 10pm local time, with the remaining results to be released on Friday morning.
By 11pm on Thursday Limpopo was the only province that had not yet captured 50% of its votes. While the Western Cape and the Northern Cape reporting over 90% of votes captured.
Ramaphosa is trying to arrest a slide in support for the ANC, whose image has been tarnished in the last decade by corruption scandals and a weak economy.
At the last election in 2014, the ANC won 62% of votes, the DA 22% and the EFF 6%.
The rand and government bonds firmed in early trade on Thursday, but traders said the currency was expected to be volatile as results emerge.
Election 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 but “will not allow the potential misconduct of one or two individuals to taint the overall outcome of these elections”.
Mamabolo said the commission would conduct an audit of votes in a sample of voting stations to ascertain whether double-voting had occurred, after allegations in some provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal.
The ANC achieved its best parliamentary election result in 2004 under former president Thabo Mbeki, when it won 69% 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 party now controls eight of the country's nine provinces, with the DA in power in the Western Cape. Analysts predict the provincial race for Gauteng, where Johannesburg and the administrative capital Pretoria are located, will be close. By 11pm, with only 56% of votes captured, the ANC had 53% of the vote while the DA had 24% and the EFF - who had 10% in 2014, had 13%.
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. – Reuters