Results from nearly half of voting districts in South Africa’s election put the African National Congress on course to retain power but at risk of its worst performance in a national poll since the end of white minority rule 25 years ago.
As of 4 pm local time on Thursday, votes in 48 percent of 22,925 voting districts had been counted. The early tallies put the ANC on 57 percent in the parliamentary race, with the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) on nearly 23 percent and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on nearly 9 percent.
Based on those results, political analyst Melanie Verwoerd predicted the ANC was set for a vote share of 56-57 percent.
The former liberation party of Nelson Mandela has not taken less than 60 percent 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 that persist 25 years after apartheid ended.
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 percent, things will be okay for Ramaphosa inside the ANC,” Verwoerd said.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, a government agency, also forecast a decline in support for the ANC, which it predicted would get just over 57 percent in the parliamentary vote and about 50 percent in the provincial polls.
Turnout on Wednesday was just over 65 percent, 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.
“By late afternoon we will know where we stand,” she said.
Duarte said voter turnout could end up below the 65-70 percent 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 percent of voting districts would be declared by 10 pm local time, with the remaining results to be released on Friday morning.
At the last election in 2014, the ANC won 62 percent of votes, the DA 22 percent and the EFF 6 percent.
The party now controls eight of the country’s nine provinces, with the DA in power in the Western Cape. Analysts predict the provincial races for Gauteng, where Johannesburg and the administrative capital Pretoria are located, and the Western Cape, home to Cape Town, will be close.