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A watershed election for South Africa?

April 26th, 2009

jz
BBC News

ANC misses 2/3rds, DA wins W Cape, COPE disappointing

So, for the first time during the post-apartheid era, the ANC had to pull out all the stops during an election campaign, the emergence of the new COPE party galvanising its efforts, and in the event, its vote share at 65.9% was only four points down on 2004.

    However the ANC will not have a constitution-changing two-thirds majority in the new National Assembly, with its final tally of 264 being just three seats short. Despite what many thought would be a difficult election for the ANC, its score was above what it achieved in 1994 and only just below that of 1999 – its vote share has been between 62 and 70% in all four elections in the new era of South African politics, demonstrating the enduring depth of its support as the movement that saw off the apartheid regime.

For the opposition parties, the results were a mixed bag. The biggest disappointment was undoubtedly COPE, who some analysts earlier in the year predicted could get up to 18%, and scored well into double figures in the polls, but secured just 7.4% of the vote. Detailed regional breakdown of opinion polls had suggested they could score up to 30% in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, but in the event only got 7% and 3%, with their best score being 16% in the Northern Cape. COPE are on the map, but with almost nine ANC voters for each COPE voter, it was something of a whimper.

The IFP had a disastrous election, with their vote share falling for the third election in a row, from 10.5% in 1994 to just 4.5% now. The decline in their KwaZulu-Natal heartland, which accounted for 90% of their votes in 2009, has been even more precipitous, from almost 50% in 1994 to just over 20% now. The ANC appeared to be really gunning for the IFP in this election – there were several claims of campaign irregularities in KZN and Zuma’s Zulu ancestry meant that the ANC were able to successfully go after Butheleizi’s party – as a force in national politics they are now a marginal player at best.

The Democratic Alliance emerged as the biggest winner from the election relatively speaking. At 16.7%, their vote score was over four points up on 2004, and leader Helen Zille will have been delighted that the “Stop Zuma” approach has borne fruit and the ANC were prevented from obtaining two-thirds of the seats (“it could be your vote that stops them” Zille said in the campaign). The Western Cape is now a DA stronghold – they won the province by 16 points and their vote there was up 22 points on 2004 – a very strong vote of confidence from the party’s heartland. Not only that, but they also had a similarly resounding triumph in the Western Cape provincial election, as well as a respectable score of 21% in the most populous province of Gauteng at the national election.

The controversial figure of Jacob Zuma will thus become the new President of South Africa, and it remains to be seen how he performs in office dealing with the country’s many problems. Crucially however the ANC will not be able to change the constitution, and it is the DA, not COPE, that has emerged as the clear opposition challenger. Those who have warned that South Africa may be on the slippery slope to becoming another Zimbabwe will have been heartened to see a vibrant democracy in action, a high turnout, and an election judged to have been free and fair, one or two issues notwithstanding. But the big question remains – what do the other parties have to do to challenge the ANC’s seemingly relentless grip on power?

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