Preliminary results in South Africa’s local elections showed the ruling African National Congress in the lead in a vote characterised by the government’s failure to improve the lives of the poor.
By early Thursday, the ANC was ahead with 60 percent of the votes followed by the Democratic Alliance (DA) with 27 percent, an election official told Reuters.
The figures were based on counting of about 3 million ballots and, with 23 million registered voters, it was too early to project a final outcome, Reuters reports.
The ANC secured 66 percent support in the 2006 elections and any slip in support could embarrass President Jacob Zuma and jeopardise his re-election when the ruling party chooses a new leader next year.
The DA, led by Helen Zille and previously associated with white privilege, has used its successful administration of Cape Town to show that it can govern better than the ANC.
What once appeared as a dull race for control of 278 municipalities, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, heated up as a row over squalid, open toilets built for the poor dominated headlines.
The ANC scored political points a few months ago when it found the DA had not built walls around public toilets in shantytowns in an area it controlled.
However, the ANC later came under fire when it was reported the ruling party also failed to build such walls in another town, with a local ANC official being paid state funds for the shoddy construction.
Despite spending billions of dollars on redressing apartheid-era inequalities, the results have been mixed and millions of people still live in grinding poverty, without access to water, electricity and proper housing.
An IEC official told Reuters polling stations were expected to finalise counting by late on Thursday and final audited results could be released by the weekend.