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South Africa’s president faces his party’s worst election ever. He’ll still likely be reelected

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faces the prospect of his ruling party’s worst election result ever. Yet he’s still likely to be reelected as leader of Africa’s most advanced country after Wednesday’s national vote.

While several polls have support for his African National Congress at below 50% ahead of the election, putting it in danger of losing its majority for the first time in South Africa’s 30 years of democracy, the ANC is still widely expected to win the most Parliament seats. The growing opposition to the ANC is split among several parties.

That will likely mean Ramaphosa stays for a second and final five-year term, though it might not be straightforward. Parliament decides who the president is and the ANC may not have a majority of lawmakers. Also, a sharp drop in votes for the ANC would put Ramaphosa under pressure within party ranks. The ANC has a history of withdrawing support for its party leader in times of trouble, resulting in them stepping down as president.

Here’s a look at the 71-year-old Ramaphosa and his future.


Ramaphosa was seen as a protege of Nelson Mandela, who led the ANC to victory in the momentous 1994 election that ended the apartheid system of white minority rule and established South Africa as a democracy. Ramaphosa lost the internal ANC battle to succeed Mandela as president when the aging anti-apartheid icon stepped down after one term in 1999 — even though Mandela was thought to favor Ramaphosa.

Instead, Ramaphosa left politics to become one of South Africa’s richest businessmen.


Ramaphosa returned to politics by being elected deputy president of the ANC in 2012. He was appointed deputy president of the country in 2014 under former President Jacob Zuma. Using the same internal party machinery that saw him overlooked before, he won the leadership of the ANC in 2017. Zuma stepped down as president of South Africa two months later under a cloud of corruption allegations and Ramaphosa took over. He was elected for his first proper term in 2019.

He promised to end the corruption that had plagued the ANC during the Zuma administration and boost a struggling economy and failing government services, although that has not been easy. South Africa still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and nationwide electricity blackouts in 2022 and 2023 due to mismanagement at the state-owned utility badly damaged Ramaphosa’s reputation.


Lawmakers in Parliament decide on South Africa’s president, and this election could bring something new to that process. South Africans vote in national elections for parties and those parties send lawmakers to the 400-member Parliament according to their share of the vote. The lawmakers then elect the president.

Every South African president since 1994 has been from the ANC because of its parliamentary majority, but if it drops below 50% in this election, it would need another party or parties to vote with it to get the required numbers in Parliament to reelect Ramapohosa.


There are three possible scenarios for Ramaphosa:

If the ANC keeps its majority against expectations, he will likely be reelected without trouble by his party’s lawmakers. The ANC won 57.5% of the vote in the last national election in 2019, leading to Ramaphosa’s first term.

If the ANC drops just below 50%, it may seek a coalition with several smaller parties to get the needed votes in Parliament for Ramaphosa to continue as president.

If the ANC’s share is well below 50% and closer to 40%, it’s more complicated. The ANC may have to approach one of the bigger opposition parties for a coalition and that would involve much more wrangling. A significant drop in support would also affect Ramaphosa’s authority within the ANC.

It’s notable that no South African president since 1994 has served their full two terms in office. Mandela stepped down to hand over the reins, and Thabo Mbeki and Zuma both resigned before their final term ended due to a loss of support within the ANC.


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