South Africa sets May 29 elections that could be the most pivotal since apartheid ended

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa will hold pivotal national elections May 29 as polls show the ruling African National Congress could lose its majority for the first time since it came to power with the fall of apartheid 30 years ago.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the date Tuesday as Africa’s most developed economy faces a myriad of problems under his ANC party. They include record unemployment, an electricity crisis that’s led to crippling blackouts for homes and businesses, and widespread voter mistrust following a stream of corruption allegations over the years.

Several polls predict that the party once widely admired across the world and led by Nelson Mandela will slip below 50% of the vote for the first time since it won South Africa’s first all-race election in 1994 to herald a new democracy following the end of white minority rule.

If it loses its majority, the ANC would need to enter into a coalition to remain in government and keep Ramaphosa — a political protege of Mandela — as president for a second and final five-year term. South Africa has never had a coalition at national level because of the ANC’s dominance.

South Africans vote for a party and not a presidential candidate in a general election. Parties are then allocated places in the 400-seat Parliament according to their share of the vote, and lawmakers elect the president.

The president has always been from the ANC because of its parliamentary majority.

The ANC is still expected to win the largest share of the vote, but one poll has it falling dramatically to less than 40%.

South Africa’s main opposition party, the centrist Democratic Alliance, is in talks over forming a coalition of opposition parties aimed at forcing the ANC out of government completely, although all those parties would have to increase their share of the vote considerably to collectively get over 50%.

The third biggest party, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, is not involved in that opposition coalition but has drawn more support away from the ANC and was the only one of the three main parties to increase its share in the last general election.

Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen said the election date announcement began “a countdown to a historic moment where South Africa has the opportunity to rescue itself from 30 years of ANC failure, corruption, and state capture.”

The EFF said the election is “an opportunity for all South Africans to put an end to the misery we have suffered as a nation under the incompetent, corrupt and misguided governance of the ruling party, the ANC.”

The vote will be the seventh fully democratic election in South Africa. Before 1994, Black people were not allowed to vote. Ramaphosa announced the election date in a statement from his office.

“Beyond the fulfilment of our constitutional obligation, these upcoming elections are also a celebration of our democratic journey and a determination of the future that we all desire,” he said. “I call on all South Africans to exercise their democratic right to vote and for those who will be campaigning to do so peacefully, within the full observance of the law.”

The ANC has won every national election since 1994 by a clear majority, but its support has gradually waned in the last 20 years. The biggest wakeup call came in local elections in 2021, when the ANC slipped below 50%.

South Africans have grown weary of a troubled economy and unemployment that sits at more than 30%, the highest in the world. The unemployment rate for young people aged between 15-24 is at a dizzying 59%.

A period of rampant corruption under former President Jacob Zuma from 2009-2018 eroded the party’s reputation. South Africa struggles with rising levels of violent crime and widespread poverty.

Ramaphosa, 71, had some success in cleaning up the graft-tainted ANC after first being elected president in 2019, but the electricity crisis that brought record levels of blackouts last year has badly hurt his popularity.

In the election, South Africans also will vote for the makeup of provincial legislatures in the country’s nine provinces.

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AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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