Keeping the Elections Clean As Voters End Apartheid

THE all-race elections in South Africa will punctuate the end of the apartheid era. Every racial group in the country will participate. And more than that, the election will legitimize the emerging multiracial, multiparty democratic framework of government. This is a tall order for any election and it is no wonder the whole world is watching as the drama unfolds.

This election began decades ago in the guerrilla campaigns of the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, and was helped by the nearly worldwide sanctions against South Africa. Finally, National Party leader Frederik de Klerk assessed that the apartheid system was in its death throes and decided to set the country on a momentous new course.

President De Klerk agreed to a governing coalition with Nelson Mandela to effect this profound change. They established the Transitional Executive Council, with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to fashion rules for the approaching elections and the Independent Media Commission to monitor the fairness of election coverage. The IEC set rules governing the 27 political parties in areas such as finances and operations, identification documents for voters, and voter education projects.

Most difficult has been spreading accurate information and providing voter education, especially in remote areas. While mobilization of voting technicians from the community organizations has been nothing short of heroic, the resources of nongovernmental organizations from abroad has been the critical factor. For example, the United States has made contributions through the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

The vote takes place on April 26, 27, and 28. The IEC plans to mobilize 180,000 workers, who will be assisted by 2,000 election monitors from abroad, to observe 9,000 polling places. Voters will have their hands stamped with an indelible ink; thus they will be able to vote anywhere in the country rather than a specific precinct. The polling places will be open to representatives of the political parties themselves.

The ballot contains a line for each party showing the party symbol and leader. Small parties, such as the KISS party headed by a husband and wife, were not national in scope. But the IEC decided to be as inclusive as possible. The party leader's picture was put in because at least 60 percent of the electorate is illiterate. However, some unscrupulous party workers spread the rumor that voters should ``cross out'' (place an X beside) the candidate they liked least.

For this reason and others, many unusable ballots may be cast. The Matla Trust, a nonpartisan voter mobilization group, found in a mock election that 10 percent of blacks, 9 percent of Indians, 5 percent of whites, and 4 percent of ``colored'' persons turned in unusable ballots. As many as 2 million ballots could be voided, which could influence the results. Smaller parties may lose campaign financing (parties will get funded if they win at least one seat in Parliament) and the chance to get the 5 percent needed for a cabinet seat.

The ANC is still expected to win, since it is favored by 60 percent in polls. And white voters probably will not be affected. The only question is whether the National Party will win the 20 percent of the vote necessary for De Klerk to become the Deputy Executive President. The ANC needs over 66 percent to be able to govern without a coalition.

Voters are filling a 400-person Assembly and a 90 seat Senate. They vote for the political party, not the person. Each of the parties prepares a national list and a provincial list of 200 ranked names. Then the percentage of votes won by a party establishes the number that party can send to national assembly, the Senate and the provincial legislatures. The party then sends persons according to their ranking on its pre-determined lists.

Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, part of the Freedom Alliance coalition that included the Afrikaner Volksfront, which was demanding a separate state for whites, has been added at the last minute. The common aim of both parties in the Freedom Alliance was to acquire as much autonomy as possible under the Interim Constitution, since the principles of this document will guide the formation of the permanent Constitution. After several unproductive negotiations between Mr. Mandela and Chief Buthelezi, the logjam was finally broken April 19. Apparently with new provisions amending the interim Constitution providing for the preservation of the Zulu Kingdom, Buthelezi agreed to enter the election and thereby diminish the specter of civil war.

With the last impediment disappearing, the possibility increases that the election's purpose will be achieved: to provide a democratic government that will begin to solve some of the human problems wrought by apartheid and - most important - to create out of racial division, one country. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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