JOHANNESBURG—South Africa’s political opposition made gains in key metropolitan areas in municipal elections, though the ruling African National Congress (ANC) remained in the lead overall, according to early results released on Thursday.
The elections on Wednesday were the most closely contested for the ruling party since it took power in South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994.
The ANC, formerly the main anti-apartheid movement, has lost some support from South Africans who say their hopes for economic opportunities have not been fulfilled since the end of white minority rule; scandals swirling around President Jacob Zuma have also hurt the party.
With 58 percent of ballots counted, the ruling party had won 52.6 percent of the vote and 23 municipal councils, compared to nearly 29.05 percent and seven councils for the opposition Democratic Alliance.
A more radical opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, was third with 7.15 percent but had not won any councils.
Early results showed tight races between the ANC and the Democratic Alliance in Johannesburg and Tshwane, the greater metropolitan area of the capital, Pretoria. Neither party, however, appeared headed for a majority that would allow it to govern alone, raising the possibility of coalition governments in those areas.
The Democratic Alliance was also ahead in Nelson Mandela Bay, a major municipality on the east coast.
Analysts have described the South African municipal elections as a question of whether the ruling party stays strong in both urban and rural areas, or cedes control of key metropolitan centers to the opposition and relies for political dominance on rural strongholds.
Opposition groups had seized on a scandal over Zuma’s private home. The case went to the Constitutional Court, which said Zuma had violated the constitution and instructed the president to reimburse the state for $507,000, an amount that was determined by the national treasury.
Many South Africans are also concerned over allegations that Zuma is heavily influenced by the Guptas, a wealthy business family of immigrants from India. The president has denied any wrongdoing.
Image credits: AP/Schalk van Zuydam