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ANC takes early lead in South Africa election

Pretoria, April 23, 2009

South Africa's ruling ANC swept into an early commanding lead on Thursday in the fourth election since the end of apartheid in 1994, putting it on course for another five years in power.

With 300,000 out of a potential 23 million ballots counted, the party that brought an end to decades of white minority rule under Nelson Mandela had 53.3 per cent of the vote, compared to 27.7 for the Democratic Alliance, its closest rival.

COPE, a new party formed by African National Congress (ANC) dissidents late last year and touted as a potential challenge to 15 years of dominance by the ANC, won only 7.2 per cent despite growing public frustration with crime, poverty and AIDS.

The final result is not expected before Friday but there is little doubt ANC leader Jacob Zuma will become president of Africa's biggest economy, now hit by the global credit crunch and teetering on the brink of its first recession in 17 years.

Zuma, 67, will not want to see support flag below the two-thirds majority that allows him to change the constitution at will and further entrench his party's grip on power.

Turnout in Wednesday's election was so far estimated at 76 percent, said electoral commission officials. This suggested strong interest in politics and a high turnout could strengthen the authority of Zuma.

'We are entering a post-liberation era. People are talking about new issues and challenges and there's also a new generation that's not attached to the liberation struggle,' said independent political analyst David Monyae.

Police said the election was largely peaceful, although COPE said one of its officials was shot dead in what it believed to be a political killing.

From before dawn until past dusk, queues snaked outside polling stations across the country. Many centres ran out of ballot papers, and some had to allow people to vote beyond a 9 pm (1900 GMT) cut-off.

'I voted for the ANC out of loyalty because my father was active in the struggle, but I'm not satisfied with what they've done,' Margaret Nkoane, 57, said in Soweto, a Johannesburg township that symbolised the anti-apartheid struggle.

'People expected jobs but they are still living in shacks.'

Anti-apartheid credentials

Many analysts believe the ANC, whose anti-apartheid credentials make it the choice for millions of black voters, will win between 60 and 66 percent of the vote, compared to nearly 70 percent in 2004.

A smaller majority would cheer investors keen to see the ANC's grip loosened. Despite Zuma's assurances, they fear he may bow to leftist allies who say policies credited with South Africa's longest spell of growth have harmed the poor.

But with South Africa possibly already in recession, Zuma's room for manoeuvre is limited. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, a market favourite, is expected to stay for now.

'Our economy won't become ideological, it will stay rational,' he told Italy's Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper.

In thin offshore trade, the rand was bid one percent stronger at 8.878 to the dollar, partly on hopes Manuel will stay in his position and stick to tested policies.

'When I grew up, I did not know that this day would come,' a a confident Zuma said after voting at his village birthplace of Nkandla in the Zulu heartland of KwaZulu-Natal.

Zuma, imprisoned alongside Mandela during the apartheid years, has survived party power struggles and made a remarkable political comeback after graft allegations tainted his image.

He managed to get state prosecutors to drop corruption charges against him this month, and his supporters have stuck by him, saying he was the victim of a plot by political enemies.

The first credible black opposition party, the Congress of the People (COPE) was formed by those loyal to former President Thabo Mb


Tags: South Africa | elections | ANC | Jacob Zuma | Pretoria |

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