, PRETORIA, Apr 25 – South Africa’s ruling ANC swept general elections with just short of two-thirds of the vote, the final count showed Saturday, putting party leader Jacob Zuma at the doorstep to the presidency.
The election commission was expected to certify and announce the results later Saturday, but the final tally showed the African National Congress (ANC) taking 65.9 percent of the vote.
That left the former liberation movement just short of the two-thirds majority it would need to change the constitution, and below the nearly 70 percent it scored in the last polls in 2004.
The opposition Democratic Alliance won 16.68 percent, while the upstart Congress of the People, which broke away from the ANC late last year, landed third with 7.42 percent.
Zuma was expected to arrive at the results centre later in the day to receive the final vote count and declare victory.
He is now certain to become president when the new parliament convenes early next month to elect the head of state, riding a wave of support from the nation’s poor who backed his pledges to create more jobs and expand the social safety net as the economy is slipping into recession.
The ANC also swept the provincial elections, except for the Western Cape that is home to Cape Town, where the Democratic Alliance (DA) won a majority for the first time.
"The DA has retained its status as the champion of the minorities, in the same way as the ANC has maintained its status as the champion of the majority," political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi told Business Day.
Thousands of ANC supporters have celebrated the victory since Thursday night, and party leaders held a rally Friday night to map out the road ahead.
"Immediately after the counting finishes, the real work starts. We must all roll (up) our sleeves and start working," said Paul Mashatile, premier of Gauteng, the country’s economic hub that includes Johannesburg.
"Those who live in shacks or have no jobs want us to work for them. We must deliver," he added.
The voter turnout was estimated at about 77 percent.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Zuma on Friday to congratulate him on his party’s success, a spokesman in London said, to show "our desire to work closely with the new South African government."
The African Union declared the election free and fair in a preliminary report commending the smooth conduct of the elections.
Zuma has experienced massive support from his mainly working-class devotees who hope the populist leader is their ticket to improved public services and more jobs.
But he will take power as the economy is slipping into a recession, with thousands of workers in the crucial mine industry laid off earlier this year.
The son of a housekeeper, Zuma is seen as the antithesis of former president Thabo Mbeki who managed impressive economic growth, but failed to tackle the world’s largest HIV rates and the nation’s staggering crime problem.
Zuma was a stalwart of the struggle against white minority rule, and spent a decade jailed alongside Mandela on Robben Island.
He became deputy to Mbeki, but the two developed a fierce rivalry, and Mbeki sacked him in 2005.
Zuma seized the leadership of the ANC away from Mbeki in December 2007, and nine months later the party dismissed Mbeki as president.