A KEY compromise on the voting system in South Africa's first all-race elections in April has raised hopes for a settlement that would include dissenting, right-wing Afrikaners and Zulus, who have vowed to disrupt the poll unless their demands are met.
The compromise, which represents a major concession by the African National Congress (ANC), would lead to a double-ballot system in which voters would make separate choices at national and regional levels, according to Western diplomats and a source close to the talks between the government, the ANC, and the Afrikaner right wing.
The ANC's double-ballot offer is part of a package that the organization says represents its ``final offer'' in talks with the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) and the Freedom Alliance (FA), a coalition of right-wing white and conservative black leaders, including the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
Talks between the government, the ANC, and the Alliance resumed in Pretoria yesterday. The package includes proposals to extend provincial powers - particularly taxation powers - and guarantee the autonomous status of provincial constitutions.
``It does not go all the way toward meeting either the IFP or AVF proposals but it presents a formula for all reasonable leaders to take part in the election,'' said a Western diplomat close to the talks. ``It would be political suicide for the AVF and IFP to turn it down.
``The political leverage of [AVF leader] Gen. Constand Viljoen and IFP leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi is fast running out,'' he added.
Western diplomats and political analysts fear a massive escalation of violence in the run-up to the April poll if the white right and the IFP are not included.
The ANC, which has repeatedly stated that a single ballot was nonnegotiable, reached the compromise at a meeting of its executive committee on Tuesday night following mounting diplomatic, business, and political pressure to shift its position.
On Tuesday, Julian Ogilvie-Thompson, chief executive of the giant Anglo American mining and industrial conglomerate, took the unusual step of making a public call on the ANC to give way on the single-ballot issue.
A Johannesburg stockbroker said that the equity markets surged upwards on Wednesday when news of the ANC compromise filtered through. ``We can expect that foreign interest in the markets will resume with a vengeance if the white right and the IFP accept the latest offer.''
Foreign interest, which took South African stocks to new highs last month, dissipated when news of the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Programme - which retains some of its socialist thinking on the economy - was unveiled last month.
The United States Agency for International Development administrator Brian Atwood, who held talks with ANC President Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, told Mr. Mandela that additional USAID funds would be available for voter education and logistical work that would arise due to the more complex double-ballot system, diplomats said. Mr. Atwood, briefing US correspondents on Monday, said that USAID had made available $10 million to assist with the April elections.
The right-wing and IFP call for a double ballot was also supported by the liberal Democratic Party and the militant Pan- Africanist Congress.
News of the compromise emerged as President Frederik de Klerk proclaimed the dates, April 27-28, for the country's first multiracial election in a special issue of the government newspaper, the Government Gazette, late on Wednesday.
The proclamation of the election date means that the dissenting parties have 10 days to accept or reject the offer before the deadline for political parties to register for the election expires.
If the AVF or IFP accept the deal, Parliament will be recalled in the next two weeks to amend the Electoral Act, which will provide for a double ballot, and the interim constitution, which will guarantee the principle of self-determination for ethnic minorities.
The government said that it would back the ANC compromise if it helped secure an inclusive settlement. ``If a double ballot will bring about an all-inclusive settlement, then we will support it,'' said chief government negotiator Roelf Meyer.