South Africa starts voting amid corruption, unemployment

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africans were voting Wednesday in presidential and parliamentary elections amid issues of corruption and unemployment.

The vote comes 25 years after the end of apartheid, but despite the demise of the system of racial discrimination the country remains divided by economic inequality.

The African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela that has been in power since 1994, is likely to win a majority but it will face a difficult challenge to do as well as five years ago.

The party has been tarnished by widespread corruption scandals and a national unemployment rate of 27% that has left many voters disillusioned. ANC head President Cyril Ramaphosa has campaigned on promises to clean up his party, an acknowledgment of the problems that forced his predecessor to resign last year.

The ANC also has vowed to embark on a program of seizing white-owned land without compensation, for which it needs a 67% majority to change South Africa’s constitution.

In the most likely scenario, the ANC will need to form a coalition government with another party to get the votes needed to alter the constitution. That is likely to be the Economic Freedom Fighters, a populist, left-wing party that also supports land seizures.

If the ANC’s share of the vote slips below 60%, Ramaphosa could be vulnerable and his party could oust him and choose a new leader.

The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has campaigned vigorously against corruption but its support among the country’s black majority is limited because it is perceived as a white-run party. More than 40 smaller parties also are vying for power in the balloting.

The country’s young voters, who make up about 20% of the electorate, largely support the EFF, which is led by charismatic firebrand Julius Malema, who broke from the ANC six years ago.

Neither the president nor the parliament is elected directly. Voters cast ballots for a national party and the number of votes won by each party determines how many representatives are sent to the legislature. The president is the leader of the party that gets the most votes.

Some 26 million people of the country’s population of 57 million are eligible to vote. The polls opened at 7 a.m. local time and were to close at 9 p.m. (0500 to 1900 GMT; 1 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT).

The day is a national holiday to encourage turnout.

South Africa was famous for its long lines of voters in the first post-apartheid election 25 years ago. But a sense of national apathy this year could be an ominous sign for the ANC.

Preliminary results will be announced from the electoral commission in the capital, Pretoria, and final results are not expected for 48 hours.



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