Zuma’s ANC wins fourth straight term with reduced majority (Lead)

April 26th, 2009 - 12:45 am ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown Johannesburg, April 25 (DPA) South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) has been re-elected to a fourth five-year term in the country’s fourth democratic general elections, the Independent Electoral Commission announced Saturday.
Jacob Zuma’s ANC won Wednesday’s elections to the National Assembly with a resounding 264 seats out of 400, or 65.9 percent of the vote.

The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance of Cape Town mayor Helen Zille, came in a distant second with 16.6 percent of votes cast, or 67 seats, and the new Congress of the People (COPE) trailed in third place with 7.4 percent, or 30 seats.

Some 17 million people out of a little over 23 million registered voters cast a ballot, representing a turnout of 77 percent.

Zuma, who wore a dark grey suit for the announcement at the election centre in Pretoria, is poised to become president within days. The National Assembly will sit May 6 to elect the president.

The 67-year-old Zulu politician, who until a few weeks ago faced a trial for corruption, will be South Africa’s fourth democratically elected president, following in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, who served one term, Thabo Mbeki, who served nearly two, and Kgalema Motlanthe, Mbeki’s replacement of the past seven months since Mbeki’s ousting by the ANC.

“Mine is to concede defeat,” Motlanthe, the ANC’s deputy president, joked as he prepared to pass the baton to Zuma.

While winning a decisive mandate, the ANC fell short of the two-thirds majority, or 267 seats, it had been batting for and dropped support in percentage terms for the first time since it came to power under Nelson Mandela in 1994.

Mandela’s successor Mbeki, whom Zuma trounced in a vote for ANC leader in 2007, had progressively increased the party’s majority to 70 percent in 2004.

By falling short of two-thirds, the ANC has also lost its power to push through constitutional amendments on its own.

The DA had urged voters to “stop Zuma” having that power, saying it feared he might use it to muzzle his critics.

“You don’t need a two-thirds majority to govern decisively,” ANC spokeswoman Jessie Duarte said, pointing out that the ANC had won more votes than ever before because around 2 million more people voted in these elections than in the last.

Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown led world leaders in congratulating Zuma by telephone already Friday night. The ANC has already held two big victory rallies in Johannesburg.

Voters in the election were also asked to chose parties to nine provincial parliaments. The ANC maintained control of all but the Western Cape, where Cape Town is located. Zille hopes to use the province to showcase her ability to govern and increase the DA’s majority in future elections.

The formation of COPE last year out of a split in the ANC between factions loyal to Zuma and Mbeki made these the most exciting elections since black South Africans first exercised the right to vote in 1994.

Thousands of ANC members defected to COPE, sowing alarm in the ranks of the former liberation movement.

But the ANC bounced back with a lavish campaign promising more jobs, improved delivery of basic services and a tougher stance on crime and corruption.

Zuma’s campaign was boosted when the state abruptly dropped its eight-year corruption case against him in early April. The case related to a state arms deal. Zuma, who was fired as deputy president over the affair in 2005 and was acquitted of rape the following year, claimed the charges were an attempt to bury him politically.

Although winning only a fraction of the vote, COPE has become the official opposition in five provinces.

“This election reminds us of the 1994 election,” IEC chairwoman Brigalia Bam, said Saturday, referring to the long, snaking queues that formed outside polling stations Wednesday.

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