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Mandy Rossouw, Adriaan Basson, Sapa-AFP22 Apr 2009 21:30
The Democratic Alliance (DA) took an early lead in this year’s general election with the publication of the first results just before 11pm on Wednesday at the national results centre in Pretoria.
After counting down to 10, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chief executive Pansy Tlakula switched on the election scoreboards which showed the DA leading the African National Congress (ANC) with 52 votes to 50.
Shortly afterwards DA leader Helen Zille was posing in front of the results, showing thumbs-up to a small group of journalists and photographers.
The first published results emanated from three rural polling stations—two in the Northern Cape (Fraserburg and Groblershoop) and Lady Frere in the Eastern Cape.
In Lady Frere the ANC got 36 votes, the United Democratic Movement (UDM) two and the Congress of the People (Cope) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) one vote each.
The DA snatched up the first Northern Cape votes, gathering 92 endorsements in Fraserburg and Groblershoop against the ANC’s 23. Cope received 15 votes and the Freedom Front Plus 13.
Earlier it was reported that the IEC printed two million extra ballot papers in the light of complaints from voting stations that they had run out of ballot papers, but the complaints of shortages were played down as “little problems”.
In Johannesburg, Pretoria and Ekurhuleni, as well as parts of the Free State, complaints were received by the IEC that voters were turned away from voting stations because there were not enough ballot papers.
The IEC printed 58-million ballot papers in anticipation of the elections, while there were 23-million voters who each would be entitled to two ballot papers to vote on national and provincial level.
Tlakula told reporters at the IEC results centre in Pretoria that the IEC were printing the extra ballot papers for contingency measures, not because they have any evidence that the ballot papers have run out.
“I don’t even know if there is a voting station that has run out and we cannot deal with it,” she said.
One of the commissioners, Terry Tselane, went to Diepsloot after complaints about a shortage of ballot papers, but claims when he got there, there were no problems.
“I went to Diepsloot myself and when I got there everything was fine.”
Tlakula attributed the shortage of ballot papers to the fact that the Electoral Act does not compel voters to vote at the station where they are registered.
She said most of the problems were solved by redistributing ballot papers in provinces.
She said in Gauteng, generally a province with a lower turnout that the rest, they prepared for a 100% turnout.
The IEC also had to use brown boxes because the official boxes procured by the commission had run out. Tlakula said the ballot paper was longer than expected and therefore in the folding of the ballot the ballot boxes filled up quicker than expected. Extra security measures were put in place to ensure that the ballot papers are not compromised.
Voting stations were due to close at 9pm, but the IEC said voters who are in the queue at that time will still be allowed to vote.
ANC push for extension
The ANC had pushed for voting hours to be extended.
The IEC came under fire from the ruling party fighting to retain its two-thirds majority as queues stretched around street blocks, ballot papers ran out and ballot boxes overflowed.
ANC spokesperson Chris Nissen said voters in townships in the hotly contested Western Province were going home without casting their ballots because the commission had failed to foresee a turnout likely to hit 80%.
“The ANC is extremely concerned that there are very serious problems at many voting stations in townships wards. Very long queues in Khayelitsha, Mbekweni, Gugulethu, New Rest, Crossroads, Philippi, Vredenberg and other areas has meant that voters are leaving voting stations and going home without having voted.
“It appears the ANC’s worst fears have been confirmed, that inadequate preparations have resulted in problems which have characterised previous elections and in some cases have got worse.”
ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte urged the IEC to “to come to the party and extend voting hours to ensure that all South Africans can exercise their democratic right to vote”.
Ninety minutes before polls were scheduled to close at 9pm, the Inkatha Freedom Party said the IEC was printing fresh ballots to supply stations, a sign it was likely to heed the ANC’s call.
Zille slams “pathetic” IEC
But opposition leader Helen Zille angrily dismissed the possibility of an extension, saying it would benefit only the ANC.
“I think the turnout was great but the IEC was pathetic. They ran out of ballot papers, they ran out of ballot boxes,” said the DA leader and candidate for premier of the Western Cape.
“You don’t extend voting hours because you failed to get it right the first time round. It really makes me so angry.
“It will only benefit the ANC because they have queues going round the block.”
“The real race is for second place”
With the ANC assured of victory, University of Johannesburg political analyst Adam Habib said the most suspenseful part of the election was Zille’s party slugging it out with newcomer Congress of the People (Cope) for second place.
“The real race here is for second place ... and that race is going to be closely contested.”
Cope had given opposition voters an alternative platform as the party had a “fundamentally different image” from that of the DA.
“It is a secret ballot”
Former president Thabo Mbeki refused to say whether he had given his vote to splinter party Cope, formed in protests after he was ousted from his post by supporters of presidential frontrunner Jacob Zuma.
“It is a secret ballot. Really, I think it is very important that people understand that because the future of our country depends in part in people voting according to their consciences,” Mbeki told reporters in Parktown, Johannesburg.
Whatever their likely score, expectations that Cope would energise the electorate seemed well-founded as voters queued patiently around the country in cold weather.
Many reported giving up after a few hours to attend to others matters, before coming back and trying again.
“I have been standing in one place for close to an hour so I decided to go cook for my children, then I’ll come back at around 8pm,” said Even Ramtopo as she queued in Mathole township on the West Rand.
The Western Cape’s electoral officer, Courtney Sampson said the queues were at least partly to blame on a last-minute concession allowing people to vote at the polling station of their choice.
“It really is posing problems,” Sampson said.
The IEC also battled with what it termed unprecedented “criminal challenges” on Wednesday.
An electoral officer was arrested and charged with fraud at Ulundi in KwaZulu-Natal, a traditional Inkatha Freedom Party stronghold where pre-1994 clashes with ANC supporters ended in tens of thousands of deaths.
In Nkandla, Zuma’s hometown, an area manager lost all her voting material. In the same area, some 50 marked ballot papers were found, said IEC chairperson Brigalia Bam.
Tlakula said the incidents were a “drop in the ocean”.
A carnival atmosphere
“A carnival mood is prevailing across the country,” said Tlakula, adding that more than 98% of the 19 726 voting stations countrywide opened on time at 7am.
The sentiment was echoed by ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who is running for Parliament. She said this election was special because it had the vibrancy and the atmosphere of 1994.
She acknowledged that since that historic vote ushered in black majority rule 15 years ago, the party had let down its supporters.
“The ANC received a lot of wake up calls. Now is the time to serve the people of South Africa and deliver on promises we have made since 1994.”
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