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ANC wins South Africa elections, but loses some ground

The ruling party falls just shy of a two-thirds majority as opposition groups make gains. ANC also loses control of a key province, Western Cape to the opposition Democratic Alliance.

April 26, 2009|Robyn Dixon

JOHANNESBURG — The governing African National Congress won South Africa's elections by a huge margin, according to final results announced Saturday, but fell short of the symbolically important two-thirds majority.

And in a significant blow, it lost control of the Western Cape to the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.

The ANC's victory was expected, and attention had focused on whether it would continue to maintain the psychological advantage gained by winning at least two-thirds of the vote. Opposition parties campaigned strongly to prevent it from doing so.

The party, with its history of fighting apartheid, has dominated politics since 1994 when it came to power under Nelson Mandela in the country's first democratic elections. .

Mandela appeared at an ANC rally last week in an endorsement of the party's presidential candidate, Jacob Zuma. The South African president is chosen by parliament, and Zuma is certain to win the post and be inaugurated next month.

Zuma has made an extraordinary political comeback after a series of seemingly insurmountable political setbacks and prosecutions. Corruption charges were dropped just weeks ago because of prosecutorial misconduct, but the opposition is demanding a judicial review of the decision.

Voters came back to the ANC despite social unrest and repeated protests over poor government services since the 2004 election.

But the decline in the ANC's vote and increase in support for the main opposition party suggests a gradual political shift. When the next elections are held in five years, the first of those born since the end of apartheid -- without personal experience of the struggle against it -- will be eligible to vote.

Some analysts have characterized the results of last week's elections as a victory for everyone. The ANC had a big win, and the two main opposition parties did well, too.

The ANC won 65.9% of the 17.7 million votes cast, down 4 percentage points from five years ago. That gives it 264 seats in the 400-member parliament, three short of a two-thirds majority.

The Democratic Alliance won 16.6%, an increase of 4 percentage points, and gets 67 seats in parliament. The party, led by a white woman, Helen Zille, is perceived by many blacks as a white party, but has tried to overcome that image by selecting many biracial and black candidates.

The Congress of the People, launched four months ago with limited financial resources, won 7.42%. COPE was formed by anti-Zuma dissidents who split from the ANC after Thabo Mbeki was ousted as president. It will seat 30 lawmakers.

The balance of the votes were distributed among minor opposition parties.

Western Cape, where the DA won, is the home of South Africa's "mother city," Cape Town, and is a draw for tourists with its stunning coastline, vineyards and scenic Table Mountain. But Khayelitsha, a sprawling township of 1.5 million people on its outskirts, is one of the country's poorest areas. Many people still live in shacks, and the township is riven by gang violence and drugs.

If the DA succeeds in improving services and runs the province more efficiently, it could help the party in the next elections.

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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