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South Africa's Inkatha Party Challenges Election Results - 2004-04-19

South Africa's second-largest opposition party says it is challenging the results of last week's election. The Inkatha Freedom Party says there were irregularities in both national and provincial polls, especially in its stronghold of Kwazulu-Natal.

A spokesman for the Inkatha Freedom Party, or IFP, says the party filed more than 40 complaints with the Independent Electoral Commission. The IFP says those complaints were ignored, and so it is now drafting a case to present to the Electoral Court.

The Independent Electoral Commission has certified the results of last Wednesday's poll, and declared the election free and fair. A spokeswoman for the commission refused to comment on the IFP's allegations when contacted by VOA. The largely Zulu party's main complaints deal with alleged voting irregularities in its stronghold of Kwazulu-Natal province.

Kwazulu-Natal-based political analyst Nhlanhla Mtaka of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa says he is not particularly troubled by the IFP's planned court challenge.

?I think, first, let me start by saying, there is no crisis. This is democracy in action,? Mr. Mtaka said. ?The electoral act provides a situation whereby political parties, or individuals for that matter, can come and complain that they were not treated fairly by the IEC. So what the IFP is doing, it's doing what is according to the [electoral] act.?

The problem, however, is the long history of political violence in Kwazulu-Natal between supporters of the IFP and members of the ruling African National Congress, which won the largest share of votes in the province for the first time.

Neither party took more than 50 percent, however, leaving the leadership of the province in doubt. Both parties have approached smaller parties for coalition deals, and it is not clear who will come out on top.

Some analysts believe the IFP court challenge is just a bargaining chip in its bid to retain control of the province it has ruled for so long.

The Inkatha Freedom Party has governed Kwazulu-Natal since 1994, and before that, the party also ran the nominally independent Zulu Bantustan under the apartheid system.

Its stronghold is still believed to be the rural Zulu heartland. But the ANC has gradually eroded its rival's support, and the IFP has lost ground in every election. Finally, this year, it slipped to second place, taking only 30 seats in the provincial legislature, compared with 38 seats for the ANC.

Mr. Mtaka, the political analyst, says, if the IFP electoral challenge actually makes it to court, the party will need solid evidence to support its allegations.

?They must prove to the court, further, that their case is justified. Because if they don't do that, I think the IFP is risking to be labeled as crybabies,? he said.

Mr. Mtaka urges both parties to focus on improving relations between their supporters, so the province of Kwazulu-Natal can remain as peaceful as possible.