With more than a half of the results in, South Africa's ruling African National Congress is on track to win more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. In a surprise to many, the party that ruled the country under apartheid lost most of its support.

President Thabo Mbeki, who is seeking a second five-year term, appears on course to win easily.

ANC has been in power since the first all race election made Nelson Mandela the first black South African president.

The country's Independent Electoral Commission reported early Thursday that ANC was leading by a large percentage. The main opposition Democratic Alliance, which has a large white following, was a distant second.

Counting the results began after polling stations closed Wednesday at 1900 UTC.

The vote was the third democratically held election since the end of apartheid (or white minority rule) in the country in 1994.

More than 20 million South Africans were registered to vote for assemblies in nine provinces and a new national parliament.

Election officials reported long lines at many of the 17,000 polling stations across the country. Next week, the newly-elected parliament will meet to choose a president.

President Mbeki and Mr. Mandela were among many people who cast their ballots early Wednesday. The 85-year-old Mr. Mandela who led the anti-apartheid campaign from prison said he was elated to freely assert his right as a citizen. President Mbeki said it is time for the people to speak.

Police reported no major trouble at the polls, including in the volatile KwaZula-Natal province. Fighting there during the 1994 election left thousands dead.