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South Africa's ANC has no good options as majority vanishes

Mike Cohen and Antony Sguazzin, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Just hours after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa confidently predicted that the ruling party would easily retain its three-decade stranglehold on politics, it was increasingly clear that voters had other ideas — sending the country into uncharted terrain.

Early results from Wednesday’s election show the African National Congress hemorrhaging support in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the two most populous provinces, and an extrapolation of the tallies by a state research body suggests it will win just 42% of the national vote.

If that projection proves accurate, the party will lose the outright majority it has held in every election since apartheid ended and have to partner with at least one of its main rivals to retain power or form a minority government, meaning it will no longer have carte blanche to determine policy.

The prospect of the ANC tying up with either the populist Economic Freedom Fighters or the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP), which is headed by scandal-tainted former President Jacob Zuma, spooked financial markets — the rand, the country’s bonds and its stock market tumbled after the projections were announced.

The securities will likely rebound should the ANC partner with the business-friendly Democratic Alliance, which looks set to retain its position as the main opposition. That could prove tricky because the two parties have long had an adversarial relationship, clashing over everything from health and education policy to the management of the national budget.

“It’s a big deal,” said Sanusha Naidu, a Cape Town-based research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue. “Depending on how the coalitions pan out, it could have a major bearing on the markets and how the next administration approaches macroeconomic and other policies.”

 

Ramaphosa hasn’t been seen in public since he voted in Soweto, near Johannesburg on Wednesday, He refused to discuss coalition options in the lead-up to the election, because he was adamant the ANC would be able to continue governing on its own. Formal cooperation talks are unlikely to begin until final results are released this coming weekend, and uncertainty will reign until they are concluded.

Many of the votes tallied so far are from the largely rural Eastern Cape, an ANC stronghold and the birthplace of the country’s first two Black presidents, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

“The projected result is a significant blow for the ANC, but it is the start of a new era of coalition politics in national government,” said Mike Davies, the founder of political-advisory company Kigoda Consulting. “The exact policy implications will depend on the coalition agreements, but it is clear that the ANC will no longer have the power to drive through contested policies or rubber stamp cabinet decisions using its parliamentary majority. This will complicate the legislative process, but could also enable greater accountability.”

Both DA leader John Steenhuisen and EFF head Julius Malema have indicated they would be prepared to work with the ANC.

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