South Africa’s ruling African National Congress maintained a lead as vote counting neared its end on Friday, with what appeared to be a decisive surge for the party’s most outspoken, far-left challenger, and a surprise uptick for a fringe party that has long lurked on the sidelines.
The ANC first came into power in 1994, when the nation held its first democratic election. In recent years, though, corruption scandals and the sluggish economy have tainted the ANC’s image and led some voters to defect. As a result, this year’s returns have given the ANC less than 60% of the vote nationally. The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, in its second national election, picked up slightly more than 10%.
The country’s Democratic Alliance is coming in just above 20%.
But top ANC officials said Friday they were undaunted by what appears to be a loss of confidence in the ANC.
“No disappointment, no surprises, we are where we thought we would be at this point in time,” Jessie Duarte, deputy secretary general of the African National Congress, told reporters at the main counting center in Pretoria.
EFF national chairperson Dali Mpofu told reporters the party was thrilled to have topped its 2014 result, in which the party won 6% of the vote in its debut election.
“We are quite happy with where we are now because for the whole day we are north of what we received in 2014,” he said.
What no one saw coming, however, was the surge in votes won by the Afrikaans-speaking VF Plus party, whose English name is Freedom Front Plus. The party’s aim is to create a homeland for the nation’s white Afrikaans-speaking minority. The fringe party surprised many casual observers by eclipsing its one-percent take in the 2014 election.
“It’s actually wonderful that we’re doing well, we’re doing better than we expected,” chairperson Anton Alberts told reporters.
Final results are set to be released Saturday, and the new government will be formed later in May.