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South Africans Await Election Results

Results are trickling in after Wednesday's South African general election with turnout likened to the 1994 poll in which blacks were allowed to vote for the first time. Initial results released by the electoral commission put the ruling party in the lead. But the breakaway Congress of the People (COPE) is expected to provide a stiff challenge in parliament. Queues reportedly snaked before dawn outside polling stations across the country with the electoral commission hoping that turnout will top 80 percent, compared to 77 percent five years ago.

Rok Ajulu is professor of International relations in South Africa. He told VOA that although the ANC is expected to win the vote, it is unclear if it will maintain its two-thirds majority in the legislature.

"According to the views of many analysts here, the results more or less are a foregone conclusion. There is a broad consensus that the ANC is going to win the remains by what margin and that is what is being debated. There have been a number of opinion polls here which suggests that the ANC could win by some think between 52 percent to 65 percent. Polls here are not as reliable as once that you would find in the United States or the United Kingdom for that matter. It's a wider margin of error," Ajulu said.

He said the ruling party remains confident that it would handsomely win Wednesday's vote.

"There is a belief among the ANC members that they will generally get the two thirds majority. Last Sunday, I attended the ANC rally which was held in Johannesburg in tow different stadiums and those two stadiums were filled to capacity with the ANC leaders oozing with enthusiasm that they should be able to get the two thirds. But we have to wait and see what the outcome is going to be in terms of by what percentage the ANC wins. It is still quite possible that the ANC will get the two thirds majority," he said.

Ajulu sharply denied reports suggesting that the splinter group COPE will win the vote.

"There is no accuracy on those claims or those reports. COPE is basically fighting to become an official opposition party and that is going to be very hotly contested between the DA (Democratic Alliance) which is the present official opposition party and COPE," Ajulu said.

He said some political observers expected the breakaway COPE to have garnered enough support in some provinces which were the ruling party seemed to have lost grounds.

"Initially we thought that COPE had a lot of strength in the Eastern Cape Province which happens to be former President Mbeki's stronghold... But according the local by-elections which have been held there ... over the last two to three months, it would seem that their support fizzled out. So, COPE is hoping that they should be able to make it to being an official opposition and even then that is not very certain," he said.

Ajulu said it is not clear whether COPE could raise its status to become South Africa's main opposition party to challenge the ruling party in future elections.

"I'm not quite convinced that COPE will garner enough votes to make it the official opposition party. The DA is still possibly going to be the official opposition party and that is my view," Ajulu said.

He said there are a number of reasons for the massive turnout in Wednesday's vote.

"Yes the turnout has been very huge. I visited a number of polling stations and I have talked to a number of agents and they seem to suggest that the turnout could be bigger than the 1994 election. Now the question we have to ask ourselves given the declining turnout over the last three elections - how do we explain this? And my explanation simply would be that the splinter of COPE from the ANC energized the ANC and the ANC went back to its roots and therefore was able to make a very strong resurgence ... and also to attract constituents out to come and vote," he said.

Initial results of Wednesday's poll released by the electoral commission suggests that the ruling ANC has taken a commanding lead in the early count of the election as a new opposition party COPE, touted as a challenge failed to make significant headway. With nearly 23,000 of a potential 23 million votes counted, the ANC had 53.6 percent support, while the new COPE party of ANC dissidents only took 8.7 percent. The main opposition Democratic Alliance held 26.South Africa's ruling ANC took a commanding lead in the early count of Wednesday's election as a new opposition party touted as a challenge failed to make significant headway.

Meanwhile, the ANC remains confident about what it describes as overwhelming victory to ensure that presidential candidate and party leader Jacob Zuma becomes president. Despite this, some opinion polls are suggesting the ANC could lose its two-thirds majority in parliament.

Political observers believe the ANC received a significant boost after the National Prosecuting Authority dropped an eight-year-old graft charge against Zuma. The move infuriated the opposition, which sharply condemned the move, arguing that the prosecuting authority had caved in under political pressure. But Zuma and his supporters believe that the graft charges are politically motivated to prevent him from becoming South Africa's next president. Zuma has campaigned on promises to extend the gains of South Africa's democratic transition to millions of people still living in poverty.

Wednesday's general election was the country's fourth consecutive vote after the country allowed enfranchisement to black South Africans for the first time in 1994. Recent polls ahead of the election suggested the ruling party would win at least 60% of the vote, with the breakaway COPE and the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) earning about 10% each.

Election officials claimed the system ran smoothly for the country's 23 million voters Wednesday, but suffered some setbacks. There were growing concerns that voters had been turned away as polling stations suffered a shortage of ballot papers and boxes. Unconfirmed reports suggested officials had started reusing sealed ballot boxes, raising concerns about the legitimacy of the count.

The country's Independent Electoral Commission was trying frantically to get more ballot papers to the affected stations, while the ANC called for stations to remain open until midnight.