ANC Faces Historic Loss of Parliamentary Majority in South Africa

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Midrand, South Africa,– The African National Congress (ANC) is poised to lose the parliamentary majority it has held for 30 years, according to partial election results. This unprecedented development in South Africa’s post-apartheid history suggests the ANC will need to form a coalition to stay in power.

Should final results confirm this trend, the ANC will be forced to ally with other parties, potentially leading to political instability in the coming weeks and months.

“The ANC might have to consider forming an alliance with one of its major rivals in order to maintain its hold on power,” said Andrew Bahlmann, a senior executive at M&A advisory firm Deal Leaders International. “The key area of uncertainty is the make-up of a future coalition.”

As of Thursday, with results in from 20.4% of polling stations, the ANC’s share of the vote stood at 43.4%. The pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA) had 24.9%, the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 8.8%, and the newly formed uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party, led by former president Jacob Zuma, was at 8.1%, with strong support in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Since the landmark 1994 elections that ended white minority rule and brought Nelson Mandela to power, the ANC has consistently won national elections. However, declining support due to high unemployment, poverty, crime, power outages, and corruption has eroded the party’s base.

Early results often favor the ANC’s rural strongholds, with urban centers, where the party is weaker, reporting later. Pollsters and major broadcasters predict that final results will confirm the ANC’s loss of majority, down from 57.5% in the 2019 elections.

Under South Africa’s proportional voting system, the share of votes determines the number of seats in the National Assembly, which elects the president. While the ANC is expected to remain the largest party, Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership could be challenged if the results are poor.

Potential for Political Gridlock

Intense speculation surrounds which opposition parties the ANC might seek as coalition partners. Bahlmann noted, “The ANC has the option of partnering with the market-friendly DA, which markets would undoubtedly prefer, or one of the two populist parties that advocate for the nationalization of mines and banks,” referring to the EFF and MK.

The possibility of an unstable coalition is concerning financial markets. The rand fell more than 1% against the U.S. dollar, the broader equity index dropped over 2%, and international bonds also declined.

The ANC shares some policy similarities with the EFF and MK, both led by former ANC figures, which could ease coalition talks. However, the deep policy and ideological divides with the DA could make such an alliance challenging.

Simon Harvey, head of foreign exchange analysis at Monex Europe, remarked on the potential for gridlock, “If [a coalition] is protracted, you may start to worry about a political gridlock going forward.”

The ANC’s statement on the election gave little away: “The ANC looks forward to a clear mandate from voters to continue the work of transforming South Africa.” In contrast, MK, jubilant over its performance, criticized “Ramaphosa’s dismal regime” and reiterated its commitment to policies like free education, land expropriation, job creation, and a new Constitution.

Former president Jacob Zuma, who resigned in 2018 amid scandals, has strongly supported MK. The new party appears to be drawing votes from both the ANC and EFF.

By law, the electoral commission has seven days to declare full results, though it typically does so more quickly. The new parliament must convene within 14 days of the final results to elect the nation’s president.