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Wednesday, March 3, 1999 Published at 23:23 GMT


World: Africa

South Africa: The main contenders

The poll is likely to be dominated by the same parties as in 1994

By BBC News Online's Justin Pearce

South African voters will face 32 parties, ranging from the Christian Democratic Party to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, when they go to the polls on 2 June.

But the new parliament is likely to be dominated by the same parties that did well in the 1994 elections, with only the newly-formed United Democratic Movement presenting an outside challenge.

African National Congress

It is hard to imagine any combination of circumstances that could unseat the ANC from its majority position in government. It gained its authority through leading the struggle against apartheid. Its supporters argue that even if it has fallen short of some election promises, it has still done well against huge odds.

A two-thirds majority would give the ANC carte blanche to rewrite the constitution, and reverse some of the concessions it made to other parties in constitutional negotiations before 1994. In the last election, it missed the magic number. This time round, its majority is not expected to increase, and it is likely to end up with just over 60% of the vote.

The ANC is again fighting the election in alliance with the South African Communist Party and the South African Congress of Trade Unions. But the influence of these left-wing allies has become less apparent as the government faces the demands of foreign investors and the business lobby at home.

New National Party

The National Party, which invented the word "apartheid", has acquired a new adjective. It sells itself as the party that initiated the transition to democracy, and the only one with the muscle to keep a check on the ANC's dominance of government.

But it has failed to distance itself from its roots, and appears undecided on economic issues.

Attracting most white and coloured voters in the 1994 elections, it came in as the second largest party, with around 20% of the vote nationally - it could hold this figure, but is unlikely to do much better.

The NNP currently controls the Western Cape provincial government, having traded successfully on anti-black sentiments among the coloured majority in that province. It will be jealously defending this seat of power against an ANC challenge.

Inkatha Freedom Party

The IFP continues to enjoy the support of most Zulus from the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal province, though the ANC dominates the cities.

Without much support outside this traditional base, the IFP is likely to gather between 10% and 20% of the national vote. Its once-bitter rivalry with the ANC has abated since the last election, giving rise to speculation that leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi - currently Minister of Home Affairs - could be heading for a position as deputy president. It has a good chance of holding onto the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, which it narrowly won in 1994.

Freedom Front

The pragmatic face of the white right wing, the Freedom Front is working with the government towards the formation of a still-notional "volkstaat" (nation state) for Afrikaners. With a respected leader in former army chief Constand Viljoen, the party managed to draw votes away from the more militant separatist parties in the 1994 poll and gained about 2% of the overall vote.

Whites who have been put off by the realities of a post-apartheid South Africa could add to the Freedom Front's tally of votes - if they bother to vote at all, that is.

Democratic Party

A white liberal group in apartheid days, the DP has remained in opposition. It has banished accusations of wishy-washy liberalism by taking a tough stand for market liberalisation, and against government corruption. Never having been in power, its own record is untainted by corruption or mismanagement.

But despite efforts to attract black support, it has had difficulty shaking off its image as a white party. In 1994 it gained less than 2% of the vote, but strong growth is predicted this time round.

Pan-Africanist Congress

The PAC, with a long tradition of opposition to apartheid, lost ground to the ANC in the years leading up to the end of apartheid. It retains a small but loyal following, and polled just over 1% in the 1994 election. It claims its support has grown by 50% in just over a year - and stands to attract the votes of blacks who feel the ANC has not delivered on its election promises.

United Democratic Movement

An alliance between disaffected leaders from both the ANC and NP led to the formation of the UDM in 1997. All brought their personal supporters with them. Military man Bantu Holomisa has a following in the rural Eastern Cape. Warlord Sifiso Nkabinde - murdered earlier this year - enjoyed loyal support in parts of KwaZulu-Natal. Roelf Meyer, who defected from the National Party, attracts liberal urban Afrikaners.

It trades on being the only opposition party with significant cross-racial support - but this has more to do with personal loyalties than any clear policy initiatives. Its association with Mr Nkabinde could also put off other potential supporters.

Formed after the 1994 elections, its support has yet to be tested.



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