POST-APARTHEID South Africa will be governed by a national unity government heavily dominated by the African National Congress (ANC) and an unexpectedly strong National Party (NP) in ``loyal opposition.''
Opposition parties - like the militant Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and the liberal Democratic Party (DP) - have been marginalized, and the Afrikaner-based Freedom Front (FF) is unlikely to qualify in its own right for inclusion in the unity government.
The only other party likely to achieve the 5 percent of the vote necessary to take part in the coalition cabinet is Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party, which boycotted the poll until the final week.
This is the clear implication of the projected results of the country's first all-race elections, which were still trickling in yesterday at a painfully slow rate due to administrative difficulties and complaints of foul play.
``There is both an up side and a down side to the strong showing of the NP/ANC coalition,'' says Natal University political scientist Mervyn Frost. ``The up side is that they know each other well and can get on with running the country right away.... They won't need a honeymoon period. The down side is that there will be a weak opposition, and marginalized parties like the PAC might be tempted to return to extra-parliamentary politics.''
The torturous electoral and counting process - in its eighth day today - has sent political and criminal violence plummeting and financial markets soaring.
``We now know who will govern, and we know in broad outline what the economic policies of our new government are likely to be. This increased certainty will instill more confidence into the economy and the financial markets in particular,'' Johannesburg stock exchange president Roy Anderson says.
The only signs of tension are in Western Cape Province, where the NP has scored a convincing victory over the ANC, and in strife-torn Natal Province, where an Inkatha victory could lead to a violent ANC backlash.
In the Western Cape, militant ANC official Tony Yengeni warned of possible violence in the black townships over the NP's victory among the ``coloreds'' (mixed race). But moderate ANC leaders insisted there was no sign of a black backlash.
In Natal, where the ANC has lodged complaints of systematic fraud by Inkatha with the Independent Electoral Commission, it is feared that an Inkatha victory could lead to a backlash from grass-roots ANC supporters in a province embroiled in a 10-year-old civil war.
But the ANC and the NP are expected to move swiftly to establish firm control at the level of central government.
The NP and ANC - two-party rule
``By next week, we shall have swapped one-party rule for what might be no more than two-party power sharing in a government of national unity,'' said the influential daily Business Day in a front-page editorial yesterday.
The NP - with Frederik de Klerk as the second deputy president (an ANC member will be first deputy) and up to five ministers in the cabinet - will have little option but to be a loyal opposition, sharing responsibility for decisions.
``The ANC and the National Party government have managed the transition to democracy so well that they have secured themselves the lion's share of the vote,'' Professor Frost says. ``It's going to be two-party rather than multiparty rule, with solid backing from the powerful business community, which will see it as the best recipe for stability,'' he says.
Frost says the outcome of the election could be seen as a marriage between the legitimacy brought by the ANC and the ruling NP's experience in government.
ANC President Nelson Mandela, who is expected to be sworn in as the country's first black president on May 10, has indicated that reconciliation, nation-building, and consensus will be the watchwords of the Transtitional Government of National Unity that will govern for up to five years.
With only 37 percent of the vote counted late yesterday, the ANC had won 59.2 percent of the vote, the NP 26.3 percent, and Inkatha was in third place with about 6.4 percent. The right-wing FF, which is testing Afrikaner opinion for a separate Afrikaner homeland, was in fourth place with 3.1 percent of the vote, the liberal DP in fifth place with 2.2 percent, and the militant PAC in sixth place with only 1.3 percent. The latest computer projections of the final result indicate the ANC could achieve about 60 percent and the NP about 20 percent.
Some ANC officials have indicated that, to promote reconciliation, Mandela might decide to include in the cabinet members of opposition parties that failed to achieve the 5 percent threshhold.
Behind the NP's success
The NP victory in the Western Cape confirms another trend in the election: Black South Africans voted overwhelmingly for the ANC, the disaffected Afrikaner and Zulu minorities stuck to ethnic parties, and other ethnic minorities - like the coloreds and Indians - voted overwhelmingly for Mr. De Klerk's ``new'' NP.
The NP has succeeded in shedding the political baggage of the past and projecting an entirely new image of a centrist party committed to liberal democratic values and a free-market economy.
``The transformation of the National Party in such a short space of time is one of the most extraordinary aspects of the past few years,'' Frost says. ``It is the only party that has achieved a total transformation and the only party that can claim to be truly multiracial.''