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South Africa's New Parliament Convenes Tuesday

  • Scott Bobb

Lawmakers from the new South African parliament take the oath of office Tuesday and are expected to choose African National Congress head Jacob Zuma as the country's next president on Wednesday.

Jacob Zuma's African National Congress won 264 seats at the polls nearly two weeks ago, nearly 66 percent of the vote.

Mr. Zuma told national television the economic downturn caused by the global financial crisis will make his job as President even tougher once he is elected by Parliament.

"Yes, there is a challenge, which I am very sensitive to, that once that (election) happens then I have got a very heavy responsibility to deal with," he said.

Mr. Zuma has sought to reassure businessmen the moderate fiscal policies of his predecessors will not change. But he promised the South African people during the campaign to alleviate poverty, provide jobs and boost social services.

Analysts say he will also come under pressure from trade unions and left-leaning wings of the party that gave him important support during his campaign for the ANC leadership.

Mr. Zuma faced his first challenge over the weekend when party leaders in some provinces protested his choices for provincial premiers, or governors.

But feminist groups praised the ANC for appointing women to four of the eight provinces it controls and for filling nearly one-half of its parliamentary seats with female leaders.

The Democratic Alliance, which won 67 seats with 16 percent of the vote, is to lead the opposition in parliament. The Democratic Alliance also won a majority of the vote in the Western Cape provincial elections.

D.A. leader Helen Zille, who is due to head the provincial government there, said she is prepared to form coalitions with other opposition parties in order to counter the ANC's large majority.

"It is always good to be in government and not just in opposition. And I think what is in it for all of us is to consolidate a strong party to build an alternative to the ANC," she said.

The Congress of the People, which was formed five months ago by dissident former ANC leaders, received nearly seven percent of the vote, giving it 30 parliamentary seats.

The Inkatha Freedom Party led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi will control 18 seats. It lost ground to the ANC in its stronghold Kwa Zulu-Natal Province, which is also Mr. Zuma's home region.

The entire parliament is to move to Pretoria for Mr. Zuma's inauguration on Saturday.

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