Polling Problems Prompt S. Africa To Extend Vote
No ballots at some stations and alleged sabotage lead political leaders to demand another day
JOHANNESBURG — VOTING in South Africa's landmark all-race election has been extended through today in three of nine voting regions in a bid to ensure that all South Africans are able to exercise their right to vote.
A shortage of ballots and voting materials in some areas lead political leaders to call for additional voting time, and a fourth day was added in the Northern Transvaal, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal regions.
The decision by Judge Johann Kriegler, chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), is seen as an effort to rescue the credibility of the ballot, which has been dogged by logistical and administrative problems and claims of foul play.
African National Congress (ANC) President Nelson Mandela claimed earlier yesterday that there had been ``massive sabotage'' of polling - mainly in black areas. He did not elaborate.
Mr. Mandela called for a further day of voting and appealed to voters to return to cast their ballots if they had been blocked by administrative bottlenecks on the first attempt.
Mr. Kriegler declined to comment directly on Mandela's claim, adding that sabotage was one of several factors that could have contributed to the nonarrival of ballots at some polling stations.
President Frederik de Klerk, challenging Mandela to substantiate his claims of ``sabotage,'' denied claims that his ruling National Party had been involved in any kind of conspiracy to wreck the election or influence it.
The right-wing Freedom Front also called for an extra day of voting on the grounds that many white voters had been denied an opportunity to vote because of administrative obstacles. And the Inkatha Freedom Party's (IFP) Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi also sought another day of voting.
De Klerk, however, opposed the idea. ``We cannot afford to bring this country to a standstill for another day,'' he said.
The first day of general voting on Wednesday was marred by the non-arrival of ballots at scores of polling stations around the country and problems surrounding the addition of stickers to the ballot accommodating the late entry of the Zulu-based Inkatha. At least 1,400 of the 9,000 polling stations had serious problems.
But the situation improved nationwide yesterday as a result of the printing of some 9 million additional ballots that were distributed to far-flung rural towns by helicopters of the South African Air Force.
Judging by the trickle of voters at polling stations yesterday, it appeared that the vast majority of South Africans had voted on Wednesday - a public holiday.
Thursday was declared a public holiday late Wednesday, but many people were unaware of the decree and went to work.
The IEC has come under heavy fire for the non-arrival - and late arrival - of ballots and voting material at polling stations.
The IEC conceded Wednesday that, in terms of its own assessment, only 70 percent of the people who wanted to vote had been able to cast their ballots at polling stations in the Johannesburg and Pretoria region - which will constitute the most populous province after the election.
There was also widespread dissatisfaction in the strife-torn province of KwaZulu/Natal, where the non-arrival of stickers designating Inkatha appeared to violate an agreement with Chief Buthelezi. Here the IEC reported a 75 percent success rate.
But Buthelezi, who threatened late Wednesday to withdraw from the poll unless the problems were resolved, said yesterday that he would not. His change of heart followed an exchange of letters with Kriegler Wednesday night, a meeting with two top IEC officials, and the printing of an additional 9 million ballot papers that included Inkatha.
The IEC had some 84 million ballots printed for a voting population of 22.3 million, which would not require more than 45 million national and regional ballots for voting.
Surplus ballots were delivered to polling stations to ensure that they did not run out, but many did not arrive in time. IEC officials were unable to explain what had happened to the tens of millions of surplus ballots other than to point out that deliveries began with far-flung rural areas and ended up with urban centers.
Kriegler said a number of factors could have contributed to the undersupply: the large-scale redistribution of the population on an urban/rural basis since the last census; the reluctance of electoral officers to part with surplus ballot papers; the failure of the last census to make an accurate estimate of the population; a major logistical hitch in the distribution of ballots; a deliberate attempt to disrupt the negotiation process.
``What went wrong today is the IEC's fault,'' a strained and tired-looking Kriegler told a televised news conference on Wednesday.