Reynolds analyzes smooth '99 South African elections
Despite the lingering effects of decades of apartheid, South Africans this summer enjoyed a smooth transition of power to new president Thabo Mbeki, assistant government professor Andrew Reynolds said on Thursday.
The June election was South Africa's first since 1994, when the Nelson Mandela-led African National Congress (ANC) won control of the government. A major question leading up to the vote was if the ANC would be able to gain control of a two-thirds majority in the South African National Assembly, Reynolds said. This would empower them to enact any Constitutional amendments they wished.
While the ANC achieved that supermajority, the National Party — which had maintained apartheid while it was in control — suffered heavy losses, winning only six percent of the vote.
"The NP led a somewhat disastrous campaign," Reynolds said. "We might be seeing the final death throes of the National Party."
One of the major surprises of the election was the success of the Democratic Party, Reynolds said. Originally a party of anti-apartheid whites, the Democratic Party shifted drastically to the right, proclaiming that they were "the only party committed to a non-ANC alliance," as well as urging disenfranchised white voters to "Fight Back."
"One of the ironies of their campaign," said Reynolds, "is that they are now seen as a more racist party, even though their voting pattern became more ethnically diverse."
Twelve percent of the total vote from the Democratic Party came from black voters, a phenomenon that Reynolds was largely unable to explain. His only conjecture was that some black voters, who still work domestically for whites, could have voted for the DP out of a lingering sense of subservience.
The diversification of voting patterns is a phenomenon that dominated this year's election, he said. While the ANC lost four percent of the black vote, they earned enough support among voters to more than replace the slight attrition.
"The ANC does appeal across the spectrum," said Reynolds. "Parties are becoming less ethnically homogenous."
It now appears that voters are increasingly becoming more concerned with issues other than race, he said. A soaring crime rate and continuing poverty are just two of the major obstacles that the ANC-led government hopes to address in the coming years.
The United Democratic Movement, a party promoting cooperation between the races, is generally regarded as the only party capable of mounting a viable opposition to the ANC in 2004. "Many people see them as the one party with potential for growth," Reynolds said.
Reynolds is a fellow of the Kellogg Institute. He worked for the United Nations and has served as a constitutional consultant for several nations.
All News Stories for Friday, September 17, 1999