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23. April 2009

SA’s poll triumph as voters usher in new political era

A RECORD number of South Africans went to the polls yesterday in an election that showcased SA’s democracy and went off smoothly in spite of a few logistical glitches and poor weather in some areas. In what has been democratic SA’s most keenly contested electoral test since 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) was set to return to office with an overwhelming majority. Last night, ANC leaders were predicting a two-thirds majority win for the ruling party after a day of enthusiastic voting.

In the run-up to the fourth democratic elections, the party had refused to commit to numbers. But last night, some leaders said the ANC was expecting a victory of 66%-70%.

Barring one relatively minor incident in Ulundi, KwaZulu-Natal, the worst fears of violence and intimidation were not realised. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said that the only problems had been logistical.

There was characteristic good humour and patience as voters put behind them months of acrimony and foreboding about the country’s political future. In spirit and atmosphere it was a day reminiscent of April 27 1994, and augured well for the new era under president-to-be Jacob Zuma, who will be inaugurated on May 9.

The opposition anchored its campaign around stopping the ANC under Zuma getting a two-thirds majority, warning that the party would unilaterally change the constitution.

Since the formation of ANC breakaway party the Congress of the People (COPE), ruling party leaders have been pressed to demonstrate that it can gain overwhelming support.

The ANC has been under pressure to demonstrate Zuma’s ability to galvanise support, and several national executive committee (NEC) members told Business Day that the ANC was expecting a decisive victory.

“Watch this space. We are expecting nothing less than 68%,” a senior ANC official said.

Others were more sanguine, citing a 70% victory because the ANC would trump the Inkatha Freedom Party in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I was in Durban. We are cleaning up in the province,” another NEC member said.

Yesterday’s poll was described by the IEC as harmonious, carnival-like and tranquil, despite several administrative hiccups, including insufficient ballot papers and boxes at some voting stations.

In some voting stations voters were given more than two ballot papers. ANC NEC member Ngoako Ramatlhodi said that while the party was satisfied with the IEC’s overall performance, minor administrative problems were encountered.

“I was given three ballot papers, and I returned one to the presiding officer which was then marked a spoilt paper. Our concern is that some voters may not have drawn attention (to this), and simply put the ballots in the box.”

Mike Moriarty of the Democratic Alliance (DA) expressed extreme irritation at the pace at which the IEC dealt with parties’ complaints.

The IEC said that everyone in the queues by 9pm would be allowed to vote. Last night, the IEC decided not to extend voting beyond the 9pm deadline despite long queues and appeals from parties.

IEC presiding officers in Ulundi, Brits and Mpumalanga were implicated in irregularities, which were reported to the police, and they are under investigation.

Many political analysts predicted a record turnout for the elections with some saying that the turnout would be much higher than the expected 80%.

Among reasons given for the enthusiasm of voters were the formation of COPE and that opposition voters had been galvanised by their parties to stop the ANC getting a two-thirds majority.

Under siege from COPE, the ANC mounted the biggest and, at R200m, the most expensive campaign to hold on to its majority.

More than 23-million registered to vote, with a large proportion of first-time voters.

There were long queues in most areas, and many braved freezing conditions to make their mark. All the parties complained that many voters had left voting stations because of the long queues.

While the ANC is the obvious victor, the interest this time round centred on which party would be the official opposition.

Pundits have said that the DA would most probably hold on to its position as the second-largest party.

However, there was much speculation that COPE could eat into the DA’s support.

COPE president Mosiuoa Lekota said yesterday that he expected his party to garner “15%-25%” of the poll. “But I’m not a prophet, I’m a politician. The people must speak,” he said. However, other COPE officials were not prepared to hazard a guess.

“We are a new party, so we don’t want to commit to a number,” a COPE official when asked how the party was likely to perform.

COPE’s advantage was its apparent appeal to young voters across race, analysts said. Given the high participation of younger voters, predictions were that COPE would benefit more than other parties.

In the previous general election, the DA polled about 12% of the vote. It has a well-oiled election machine, especially in the Western Cape, which it is likely to wrest from the ANC.

Voters should have a clear picture by tonight on the outcome of the election. Despite tough campaigning, leaders displayed courtesy with Lekota, when photographed with ANC members, saying: “This picture is indicative of our democracy in action, and our diversity.”

KARIMA BROWN, HAJRA OMARJEE and AMY MUSGRAVE

Source: www.businessday.co.za/articles/topstories.aspx

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