Despite corruption scandals and economic stagnation, the ruling African National Congress is headed to another landslide election victory in South Africa with more than 60 per cent of the vote.
With about half of the vote counted from Wednesday’s election, the ANC had about 62 per cent of the vote, while the opposition Democratic Alliance was at about 24 per cent.
The early results suggest that the ANC might have lost a little support since the last election in 2009, when it won 66 per cent of the vote, but it continues to retain the loyalty of most South Africans. The party has now won five consecutive elections, each with more than 60 per cent of the vote.
Before it became the ruling party in 1994 after the collapse of apartheid, the ANC was the liberation movement of Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid heroes. Wednesday’s election came just five months after Mr. Mandela’s death – a symbolic reminder of the ANC’s struggle history.
The early election results showed that the opposition had made gains since the last election, with the DA substantially improved from its 17 per cent in the last election. A radical new left-wing party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, was in third place with about 5 per cent of the vote in its first election.
President Jacob Zuma, the ANC leader who was first elected in 2009, has been plagued with controversy over corruption scandals, high unemployment and labor unrest. But at the voting stations, many ordinary South Africans said they remain loyal to the ANC because of the improvements in their lives since apartheid.
Many voters said they were unhappy with Mr. Zuma’s failures, but still voted for the ANC in honor of Mr. Mandela, the veteran struggle hero and first democratic president of South Africa, who died in December at the age of 95. His death touched off a week of national mourning, and he was still on the minds of many ANC supporters on Wednesday.
“This is the first election since he was gone, so I’m doing it for Madiba,” said 34-year-old Thandeka Jula, referring to Mr. Mandela by his affectionate clan name, as she voted for the ANC in Soweto township on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Ms. Jula criticized Mr. Zuma for being “selfish” for accepting a $23-million state-funded upgrade to his private home in Nkandla village. But all that matters in this election is Mr. Mandela and the political movement that he led, she said.
“I’m not doing it for Zuma,” she said. “I’m doing it for Madiba, because of the struggle. He fought for this country, he has done a lot for this country.”
The ANC enjoys a major organizational advantage: it’s the only party with a vast network of volunteers and members across the country. It was reportedly able to hire 17,000 commuter taxis to ferry its supporters to the polls. It also benefits from access to state resources after two decades in power.
But despite its advantages, at least two opposition parties seemed to make gains in the election. The new left-wing party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, attracted support from many South Africans who were disgruntled with the ANC. The party calls for the nationalization of mining companies and the confiscation of white-owned farmland.
Raymond Lesei, a 38-year-old restaurateur who lives in Soweto, had voted for the ANC in every election since 1994. But on Wednesday he switched to the EFF, complaining that the ruling party was showing “a lot of corruption, a lot of arrogance.”
He said he is voting for the EFF "to send a strong message to the ANC, to say, ‘you're not indispensible.’”
The election, with more than 25 million registered voters, was relatively peaceful. But the ANC said one of its members was killed by an opposition party supporter as he sat at an ANC desk outside a voting station in KwaZulu-Natal province. “This killing is clearly calculated to undermine free and fair elections,” the ANC said in a statement.