The leader of South Africa's long-dominant ANC was treated like a president-elect Saturday after his party swept parliamentary elections — though not with the two-thirds majority it won easily in the last vote.
A split in the ANC and questions about Jacob Zuma's fitness to govern after sex and corruption scandals no doubt contributed to the party's loss of support. But Zuma insisted he was not disappointed, telling reporters: "We have won a decisive majority."
But not the two-thirds of the 400-member parliament that would allow it to enact major budgetary plans or legislation unchallenged, or change the constitution — though Zuma says charges from the opposition he planned to undermine the constitution were unfounded.
Parliament elects the president in South Africa, and was expected to vote Zuma into office May 6.
Saturday, as he arrived to hear election officials give the final tally and declare the April 22 vote was free and fair, Zuma was surrounded by photographers. He clasped his hands before him and looked down almost shyly as he made his way to a front row seat in the fairgrounds hall where the vote has been counted. He was soon letting loose his deep laugh as he chatted with aides and well-wishers and signed autographs.
Then Zuma, statesmanlike in a dark gray suit and gold-flecked tie, appeared live on state television to deliver a 20-minute speech in which he promised to speed delivery of jobs, houses, school and clinics to the black majority that was denied so much under apartheid, and which has seen slow change since the ANC first took over in 1994.
On foreign policy, he pledged to continue helping to seek stability in Zimbabwe, Congo, Sudan and Somalia. He said he had met earlier in the day with FIFA president Sepp Blatter to pledge his support for the 2010 World Cup that South Africa will host and which it hopes will build its image as the continent's leading country.
The African National Congress took 65.9 percent of the nearly 18 million votes cast Wednesday. It was allotted 264 seats, three short of two-thirds, and 33 fewer than it had held in the last parliament. Some of its seats in the last parliament were gained when lawmakers switched parties after the vote.
The main Democratic Alliance got 67, up from 47. The ANC breakaway party, known as COPE, got 30; it did not exist the last time South Africans voted. The Inkatha Freedom Party got 18, down from 23. Nine other parties shared the remaining seats.
The seats were allotted by election officials according to a formula after the final count was certified.
The ANC won 69.69 percent of the vote in the last elections in 2004, when it was led by Zuma's rival Thabo Mbeki. It won 66.35 percent in 1999. In the country's first all-race vote in 1994, the ANC won 62.64 percent of the vote.
The party's rivals will make much of the slide, however slight.
It could be linked to the split in the movement that defeated apartheid. A new, black-led party formed by disgruntled former ANC leaders close to Mbeki was placed third in the race, with just over 7 percent of the final tally.
Mosiuoa Lekota, who served in Mbeki's Cabinet and broke from the ANC late last year to form COPE, said voters were swayed by the argument that South Africa needs a strong opposition to curb any dictatorial impulses in the ANC.
"We needed to complete our democracy," Lekota said.
The ANC's showing also could be a message from voters that want some limits on the party. ANC rivals had argued Zuma should not have the two-thirds majority needed to legislate unchallenged or to change the constitution.
Zuma, 67, was fired by Mbeki as deputy president in 2005 after he was implicated in an arms deal bribery scandal. After protracted legal battles, prosecutors dropped all charges against Zuma earlier this month, saying the case had been manipulated for political reasons and the criminal charges would never be revived. But they said they still believed they had a strong case.
In 2006, Zuma was acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend. He has been ridiculed for his testimony during the trial that he believed showering after the encounter, which he said was consensual, would protect him from AIDS.
Zuma joined the ANC in 1959 and by 21 he was arrested while trying to leave the country illegally. He was jailed for 10 years on Robben Island, alongside Nelson Mandela and other heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle.
He left South Africa in 1975 for 15 years of exile, when he led the ANC's intelligence department. Following the lifting of the ANC ban in 1990, Zuma was one of the first of the group's leaders to return to South Africa.
The ANC sees the populist Zuma as the first leader who can energize voters since the legendary Mandela.
Some say Zuma is too beholden to unions and leftists, and will not be able to fulfill his economic promises. At the end of the campaign, Zuma was talking not about creating jobs, but staving off job losses.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press