In South Africa's election Wednesday, 26 parties will field national
candidates with several more choosing only to contest the provincial polls.
If South Africa's current parliament is anything to go by, the 400 seats of the national legislature will go to just 14 or 15 parties, with just three or four of those getting more than 10 seats in the house.
African National Congress President Jacob Zuma, confident his party will do very well in the election, wrapped up a recent rally with Siyaya, an old struggle song that expresses determination to reach a goal regardless of how long it takes. For Zuma, the successful conclusion to his single-minded struggle of nearly 10 years to become South Africa's president must seem very close.
The latest polls suggest the ANC will lose between five and 10 percent of its support, but still win the national election convincingly with about 60 percent of the vote. The ANC is the oldest liberation party in Africa and will celebrate its centenary in 2012.
The party came to power in 1994 promising a "better life for all" which included jobs, houses, and a significant reduction in the grinding poverty of the black population after three centuries of white oppression.
Significant progress has been made in a number of areas, but the ANC in government has missed many of its own targets and the gap between rich and poor has become wider in the past 15 years. Speaking at Sunday's ANC rally, former President Nelson Mandela did not endorse Zuma, and did not offer praise for his party's achievements. Instead, he chose to remind ANC leaders of what he sees as their duty.
"As we strive to secure a decisive victory for our organization in the upcoming elections, let us remember our primary task. It is to eradicate poverty and ensure a better life for all. The ANC has the historical responsibility to lead our nation and help build a united, non-racial society," Mr. Mandela said.
Lagging somewhat behind the ANC are two older parties and one new one. The Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party of Mangosuthu has been losing ground since 1994 and all indications are that trend will likely continue in 2009. Analysts say the party pursues a narrow rural-nationalist agenda that does not have a crossover appeal outside of its base in Kwazulu/Natal.
Polls suggest the white-dominated Democratic Alliance is also likely to lose ground this time around. Current leader Helen Zille is fluent in Xhosa and enjoys greater appeal with black voters than her predecessor. While black membership of the party is growing, analysts say their numbers remain too low to significantly expand the party.
A newcomer, the Congress of the People (COPE), looks set to make a credible impact in this election just four months after its launch. With a leadership and support base that seems to neatly reflect the national demographic, the party's launch has generated significant interest.
But internal squabbling over how to position itself, indecisive and lackluster early campaigning and a lack of funds has worn off some of the initial shine.
Party president, a former ANC chairman, tells VOA the goal of COPE is to offer South Africans a credible alternative, including having a greater say in the election of their leaders.
"So we think this first and foremost: once the people are able to elect directly and put people in office, and have the capacity to even withdraw them if those people fail them, that will compel leadership of quality rather than of loyalty to some party or the other," said Lekota.
But he knows the chances his party will win this election are very slim. Lekota tells VOA that for now he hopes COPE will be the largest opposition force in parliament and that hard work will bring better results in future elections.