South Africa’s election results may only be the start of a rocky political process. Here’s why

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The real politicking in South Africa may start after the final results of this week’s election are announced as the country faces the possibility of no outright winner.

Early results Thursday showed the ruling African National Congress at well below 50% of the national vote as counting continued, reinforcing pre-election analysis that the party that has dominated South African politics for 30 years may lose its outright majority in the coming days.

While some opposition parties will proclaim that as a victory for change, it’s unclear how the change would ultimately materialize should the ANC lose its majority.

The ANC is still far ahead of its next challenger in the partial results. Even the worst-case scenario for the ANC has it comfortably winning the most votes. But without a majority it would likely need a coalition to form a government and — in the first piece of business after the election — choose a president.

There’s been little indication of who the ANC might partner with. That means that as South Africa senses a landmark moment, there are complications coming if the ANC remains below 50%.


Electing the head of state is the first priority after the election. South Africans vote for parties in national elections and not directly for their president. The election decides how many seats each party gets in Parliament. The president is then chosen in a vote by lawmakers after the election.

Because the ANC has had a clear majority in the 400-member Parliament ever since apartheid ended in 1994, the process of electing its leader as president has been simple.

This year might be very different. Without a majority of lawmakers, the ANC would have to find parties to vote with it in Parliament to get to the magic number of 201 to reelect President Cyril Ramaphosa for a second and final five-year term.


Again, if the ANC doesn’t have a majority in Parliament, it would need that agreement or coalition to also form a government. This has long-term implications as any coalition would effectively decide if laws are passed and the government is in a position to put policy into action.

Without an agreement, the ANC wouldn’t be able to govern — or in this case co-govern.


The timeline for what needs to happen and when it needs to happen is laid out. The national election results must be announced within seven days of polls closing on Wednesday. The independent electoral commission that runs the election says the results will be declared by Sunday, well within the time limit. From the time the results are declared, the new Parliament has 14 days to come together for its first sitting and elect a president.

That period in between the results being announced and Parliament sitting is then expected to involve a flurry of negotiations between parties to see what can be worked out. Who the ANC might enter an agreement with is anyone’s guess given how little the party has said regarding coalitions.

It’ll also depend on how short the ANC is from a majority — if indeed it does end up short in the final results. If it needs just a few percent to get past 50, it might approach smaller parties. Some have already said they won’t work with the ANC.

If it is further away from a majority, it would likely need to talk to one of the two biggest opposition parties. The centrist Democratic Alliance is the second biggest party behind the ANC and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters is the third biggest. They have starkly different ideologies and could take the ANC in very different directions.

“All bets are off in this election,” said Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen. “We’re heading into coalition country.”


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