Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Saturday, 25 April 2009 15:58 UK

ANC is denied two-thirds majority

ANC leader Jacob Zuma (left) is congratulated by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe in Pretoria, 25 April
Jacob Zuma (left) was congratulated by SA President Kgalema Motlanth

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has won South Africa's general election but failed to obtain a two-thirds majority, final results show.

The party took 65.9% of about 17m votes, the Democratic Alliance (DA) 16.66% and the Congress of the People (Cope) 7.42%, election officials said.

A two-thirds majority in parliament is needed to change the constitution.

The outcome clears the way for ANC party leader Jacob Zuma to become president when parliament convenes.

The ANC lost Western Cape province, centre of the tourist industry, to the DA but it made inroads against the Inkatha Freedom Party in Kwazulu-Natal, home province of Mr Zuma.

The election turnout was 77% - 1% higher than in the 2004 election.

Party leaders are expected to assemble at the national results centre in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon to hear the formal announcement that will mark the end of the 2009 election.

Enigmatic leader

The ANC won 69.69% of the vote in the last election in 2004, when it was led by Thabo Mbeki, and 66.35% in 1999.

ANC: 65.90%
Democratic Alliance: 16.66%
Cope: 7.42%.
Votes counted: 17.68m
Turnout: 77.3%
Source: IEC

ANC spokesman Ishmael Mnisi attempted to downplay the drop in support of nearly 4%, saying: "We don't read much into percentages."

He repeated that the party did not intend to change the constitution therefore it did not need a two-thirds majority.

During the election campaign, DA leader Helen Zille had urged South Africans to deny the ANC a two-thirds majority, arguing that the party would use it to protect Mr Zuma from new corruption charges.

Mr Zuma denied having any such plans.

Previous charges of corruption against him were dropped just two weeks before the poll after state prosecutors said there had been political interference in the case.

The challenges which confront Mr Zuma now include a struggling economy and soaring violent crime.

The BBC's Africa analyst, Martin Plaut, says the ANC leader is still something of an enigma - part Zulu traditionalist, part international leader who jets around the world.

During the fight against apartheid Mr Zuma was head of internal security for the ANC, when some people were killed and some tortured.

It is not clear how much he knew or sanctioned, says our correspondent.

But Mr Zuma is also a skilled conciliator, credited with ending the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal and helping to bring peace to Burundi.

Polls praised

Helen Zille, who received a hero's welcome in Cape Town, told the BBC the opposition had managed to reduce the ANC's grip on the country.

Celebrations in South Africa ahead of the ANC election victory

"The results are very good for South Africa," she told Focus on Africa.

"They are very good for democracy. The ANC is below the two-thirds majority they need to adversely change the constitution. The Democratic Alliance has grown by more than 30% nationally and we have doubled our vote in the Western Cape, where we've won the province which is wonderful."

Ms Zille said earlier the party would be looking to form a coalition.

Analysts say this is likely to be with Cope, formed by dissident ANC supporters of former President Thabo Mbeki who resigned last year after losing a power struggle with Mr Zuma.

African Union observer mission head Salim Ahmed Salim said the poll had been free, fair, transparent and credible.

Its vibrancy "had done honour not only to the people of South Africa but to Africa as a whole", he said.

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