South African President Exults in His Party's Landslide Vote

Posted in Other | 18-Apr-04 | Author: Michael Wines| Source: The New York Times

JOHANNESBURG, April 16 - President Thabo Mbeki on Friday hailed his party's biggest-ever landslide in South Africa's general elections as a triumph of racial harmony and reconciliation over the efforts of opposing parties to divide the nation.

With almost all the ballots counted, Mr. Mbeki's African National Congress claimed 69.7 percent of the vote, burying its nearest challenger and bitter rival, the Democratic Alliance, which had 12.4 percent.

It was the third straight election in which the African National Congress increased its share of the vote, and it sealed the party's position as the overwhelming force in both national and regional politics and government.

The party appeared poised to form a coalition government in KwaZulu Natal, the only one of South Africa's nine provinces where it does not hold power, after tallies indicated that the governing Inkatha Freedom Party would be unable to assemble a majority coalition there.

In a message made public on Friday afternoon, Mr. Mbeki said voters had "spoken out loudly against all attempts to persuade them that they belong to separate compartments with competing interests."

"They have spoken loudly," he added, "and said they have understood the truths the A.N.C. has communicated to them and understood the falsehoods that others have told."

He did not name the others, but they undoubtedly included leaders of the Democratic Alliance, the white-led party that has been the most caustic critic of the African National Congress. The alliance campaigned in part on the argument that South African democracy was endangered by the lack of a strong opposition party, a concern recent polls indicate is shared by the public.

In Wednesday's election, however, the Democratic Alliance fell short of its forecast that it would capture 17 percent of the vote. While the party picked up 400,000 more votes than in the last election in 1999, its support remained concentrated in Johannesburg and Cape Town, where large populations of whites and mixed-race South Africans have been less supportive of the African National Congress.

Mr. Mbeki made an impromptu appearance at midday Friday at the Independent Election Commission, where the vote counting was taking place, to shake hands with opposition figures.