Six Top Contenders

From the obscure to the mainstream, a broad spectrum of political parties seeks a place in South Africa's new democratic order

SOUTH Africans at home and abroad head to the polls this week to vote in their country's landmark all-race elections. Some 28 diverse parties are vying for places in the government of national unity, the national assembly, and the nine provincial legislature created under the interim constitution. Only six parties are serious contenders for a coalition cabinet. Following is a brief description of each. African National Congress/Nelson Mandela Focus: Redress apartheid's socioeconomic legacy

AFRICA'S oldest liberation movement, the ANC has adapted many of its socialist policies in the four years since it returned from exile. It now has most of the features of a modern political party, although its membership still reflects a broad coalition of anti-apartheid groups.

The major focus of the ANC's election platform is its Reconstruction and Development Program - a comprehensive plan to wipe out the disastrous socioeconomic legacy of apartheid for blacks while retaining the confidence of white business. The ANC claims it is the only party that can unite South Africans, but its membership is overwhelmingly black. It is likely to win between 50 and 60 percent of the vote. Democratic Party/Zach de Beer Focus: Watchdog for liberal democratic values

THE DP has a sound track record when it comes to exposing human rights violations and promoting a society based on free enterprise and the rule of law. Its traditional power base is the affluent English-speaking white community, but the DP has made some headway with ``coloreds'' (mixed race).

The DP is the party most Western liberal democrats would be inclined to support. It presents itself as a centralist alternative to the two major parties and the only reliable watchdog for liberal democratic values. The party is likely to win between 2 and 6 percent of the vote. Freedom Front/Gen. Constand Viljoen Focus: Demonstrate support for Afrikaner homeland

THE FF is less than two months old. It split off from the Afrikaner Volksfront, which emerged from the turmoil in the white right after the death of right-wing Conservative Party leader Andries Treurnicht a year ago.

The FF has shed institutionalized racism and apartheid but insists on self-determination for those Afrikaners who do not identify with a new multiracial order. The FF agreed to take part in the elections to demonstrate support for the concept of a white Afrikaner homeland. It is likely to win between 3 and 5 percent of the vote.

Inkatha Freedom Party/Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi Focus: Secure special status for Zulu monarchy

THE IFP has a platform of free enterprise, federalism, and democracy. But, in practice, its leaders have exploited Zulu ethnicity and demanded a sovereign Zulu state, and its undemocratic tactics have alienated many former backers. Chief Buthelezi's boycott of the elections and his style of opposition exacerbated endemic violence in Natal Province.

The IFP's April 19 decision to participate in the elections has helped reduce violence levels and raise hopes for a free and fair poll in Natal. The party is likely to win between 4 and 8 percent of the vote. National Party/Frederik de Klerk Focus: Provide balance in ANC-dominated government

THE party that invented apartheid and imposed white minority rule through increasingly oppressive measures has achieved an extraordinary transformation to free enterprise, democracy, and minority protections in a decentralized state. It is today the most multiracial party, having won substantial support among the mixed-race and Indian minorities and a small but growing number of blacks.

The NP projects itself as the only party that can stop the ANC from winning a two-thirds majority, but has failed to show how it will achieve this. It is likely to win between 15 and 24 percent of the vote. Pan-Africanist Congress/Clarence Makwethu Focus: Redistribution of land and wealth to blacks

THE PAC, which broke from the ANC in 1959 over the prominence of white communists in the ANC, has the most militant platform. It is committed to a more fundamental redistribution of land and wealth to blacks and advocates radical affirmative action and quota systems to ensure black advancement.

Referring to whites as ``settlers,'' the PAC proceeds from an anticolonial viewpoint. Despite waves of pro-PAC sentiment among blacks, the party has never succeeded in translating its political successes into party membership. It stands to win between 3 and 6 percent of the vote.

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