South African votes

South Africans are today voting in an election that poses the toughest test for the ruling African National Congress since apartheid ended 15 years ago.
Reuters avers the ruling party is virtually assured a fourth straight win since defeating white minority rule under Nelson Mandela in 1994, and parliament is expected to vote ANC leader Jacob Zuma president after the ballot.
But the ANC faces an unprecedented challenge from opposition parties hoping to capitalise on voter frustration over corruption, poverty and rampant crime, and could lose the two-thirds majority that gives it the right to change the constitution and entrench its power further.
Polling stations opened at 7am with just over 23 million people eligible to vote in national and provincial elections in Africa’s biggest economy. Voters began queuing before dawn.
Many analysts believe the ANC, whose anti-apartheid credentials make it the choice for millions of black voters, will win between 60 and 66 percent of the vote, a result that would cheer investors keen to see the ANC’s grip on power loosened.
One key challenge to the ANC comes from a new party formed by those loyal to former President Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted by the ANC amid allegations he meddled in a corruption case against Zuma. The charges were dropped on a technicality.
The first credible black opposition to the ANC, the Congress of the People party (COPE) appears to have some support among South Africa’s growing black middle class, but has faltered as it struggles to win over the poor majority.
Polls close at 9pm and first results are expected to start trickling in late on Wednesday night.
Manuel drive
Meanwhile Finance Minister Trevor Manuel says South Africa will not fail and the economy will stay rational under the leadership of Jacob Zuma, likely to become president after today’s election.
Manuel, respected by investors for his pro-business policies, also reiterated in an interview with Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, published today that he was willing to serve in a new government after the vote, which should return the ruling ANC to power.
Investors fear Zuma could steer the economy towards the Left to please powerful labour unions and the Communist party which helped him secure victory against former President Thabo Mbeki in a bruising battle for leadership of the ANC in December 2007.
“I know he is a man of great capacity, who loves to succeed and won’t push himself and South Africa into failure,” Il Sole 24 Ore quoted Manuel, who was an ally of Mbeki, as saying.
Commenting on fears that Zuma could change South Africa’s economic policy with or without Manuel in government, the finance minister added: “It is an open question. It is very important for South Africa not to isolate itself. Our economy won’t become ideological, it will stay rational.”
“All over the world, we are all fighting for rationality. In Brazil, for example, President (Luiz Inacio) Lula (da Silva) continues to make the economy grow and at the same time is tackling poverty. Taking the bull by the horns is exactly what we want to do too in South Africa.”
The ANC’s leftist allies have criticised fiscal and monetary policy under Manuel and central bank Governor Tito Mboweni, saying they have done little to improve the lives of millions of South Africans still grappling with poverty and unemployment 15 years after the end of apartheid.
Manuel is fourth on the ANC’s list of candidates for parliament, a strong indication that he is likely to be included in government, and he reiterated his willingness to serve in the new administration during the newspaper interview.
“You cannot do this job forever. The new president will decide but I would not have put myself forward if I wasn’t ready to continue serving,” said Manuel, who has been South Africa’s finance minister since 1996.