Zuma calls for unity as ANC falls shy of controlling majority

SOUTH Africa's ruling ANC won a sweeping election victory yesterday and party leader Jacob Zuma pledged that as president he would work with unions and business to ensure stability amid global turmoil.

"There will be no surprises in the next administration's programme of action," Zuma said in a victory speech.

"The electorate has endorsed our call for an equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth path that will bring decent work and sustainable livelihoods," said Zuma, who is due to be sworn in as president on May 9.

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The official results of Wednesday's election gave Zuma's African National Congress 65.9% of the vote, a big victory but just short of the two-thirds needed to ensure a parliamentary majority big enough to make constitutional changes unchallenged. The margin that would let the ANC change the constitution is largely symbolic. Despite some market concerns over whether the ANC would get the two-thirds majority, the party has repeatedly stressed it has no intention of changing the constitution.

Although a newly formed party of ANC dissidents failed to make a dramatic impact, the ruling party has seen its share of the vote fall for the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994. It won nearly 70% of the vote in 2004.

Financial markets wary of a policy shift to the left under a Zuma presidency may welcome a limit on the party's power.

But Zuma has done all he can to emphasise that there will be no dramatic change, particularly as South Africa faces its first recession in 17 years as a result of the global financial crisis and cannot afford to discourage investment.

In his speech, he addressed both business interests and the leftist allies who helped his rise to power during eight years of struggling against corruption charges, which were dismissed this month on a technicality.

"We are concerned about the potential impact of the global economic crisis. We will work with all stakeholders, especially business and labour, to find ways to prevent and cushion our people against job losses and other difficulties that may arise," he said.

Zuma, who said he was not disappointed the ANC did not achieve a two-thirds majority, also called on South Africans to get over the divisions of the past.

"We must enter a period in which South Africa reclaims its position and image as a thriving nation, which can overcome all its difficulties and which is able to put the country first above sectional and party political interests," Zuma said.

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He said South Africa would continue its efforts to find lasting solutions for political stability in Zimbabwe and other flashpoints in Africa.

The Independent Electoral Commission said the ANC will be allocated 264 seats in South Africa's 400-seat parliament after it won 11.65 million votes out of 17.68 million valid votes.

The ANC lost control of the Western Cape province, centre of the tourist industry, to the official opposition Democratic Alliance, led by Helen Zille.

The DA was the ANC's closest rival with 16.66%. The Congress of the People (COPE), formed by politicians who broke from the ruling party, stood at 7.42%. The DA will get 67 seats in parliament and COPE 30.

Inkatha Freedom Party support waned to 4.56%, giving it 18 parliamentary seats, from 6.97% in 2004.