Ramaphosa Helps Halt Decline of South Africa's Ruling Party

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s African National Congress has extended its quarter-century grip on political power and it largely has President Cyril Ramaphosa to thank for halting its decline.

The ANC won 57.3% of the votes cast in May 8 national elections, official tallies from 90% of the voting stations show. The party looked to be in danger of losing its majority when its support slipped to a record low of 54.5% in municipal elections three years ago, as many of its supporters boycotted the vote in protest at then-President Jacob Zuma’s immersion in a series of scandals.

Ramaphosa Helps Halt Decline of South Africa's Ruling Party

Ramaphosa won control of the ANC in December 2017 and became president two months later after the party forced Zuma to step down to stem a loss of support. Since taking office, he’s named a new chief prosecutor, instituted several corruption inquiries, fired several top officials implicated in wrongdoing and pledged to ensure that those responsible for looting state funds will be jailed. His public approval rating stands at 65 percent, a survey conducted by research company Ipsos before the election shows.

“Ramaphosa’s popularity, particularly among constituencies that were deserting the party under Zuma, appears to have played a major role in convincing voters to give the ANC another chance,” said Mike Davies, the founder of political-advisory company Kigoda Consulting. “Ramaphosa’s promises to address corruption, jobs and inequality have resonated amid ongoing voter skepticism of what opposition parties offer.”

The partial tallies show the main opposition Democratic Alliance winning about 21.1% of the national vote, a small dip on its share five years ago, and the populist Economic Freedom Fighters 10.3%, a 4 percentage point increase. Final results are due to be released by Saturday.

Ramaphosa Helps Halt Decline of South Africa's Ruling Party

The likely margin of the ANC’s election victory is within the range anticipated by most analysts and has buoyed financial markets, with Ramaphosa now expected to implement structural reforms to revive an economy that has expanded by less than 1.5% for the past four years. The rand gained for a fourth straight day against the dollar on Friday, advancing 1% to 14.2085 by 2:51 p.m. in Johannesburg.

The key issue yet to be decided is whether the ANC retains control of the Gauteng province, which accounts for a third of the nation’s gross domestic product, and includes Pretoria, the capital, and the economic hub of Johannesburg. The ruling party lost both cities in 2016, with the DA taking control with support from smaller parties. The latest tallies show the ANC had secured 49.6% of that provincial vote with about 60% of the vote counted. The DA retained control of the Western Cape.

Ramaphosa, 66, is an accomplished politician. He founded what was the country’s biggest labor union, helped negotiate an end to white minority rule and draft the country’s first democratic constitution. He built up a fortune in business after losing out to Thabo Mbeki in the race to succeed Nelson Mandela as president in 1999. Ramaphosa returned to full-time politics in 2012, when he won the deputy presidency of the ANC, and took the top party post after fending off a challenge from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and favored successor.

With Zuma allies securing a number of other top party posts, Ramaphosa’s hold on the ANC looked tenuous and there was speculation that a bid could be made to topple him at the party’s next elective conference in 2022 -- a scenario that now looks unlikely given the ANC’s electoral victory.

“President Ramaphosa is safe as head of the ANC,” Fikile Mbalula, the ANC’s head of elections, said in an interview. “The party has done well, especially after the doldrums we were in before the elections.”

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