South African elections officials counted ballot papers early on Thursday, a day after a vote seen as the toughest test yet for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party 25 years after it swept to power at the end of white minority rule.
The elections for a new parliament and nine provincial legislatures are the first barometer of national sentiment since President Cyril Ramaphosa replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018.
Ramaphosa is trying to arrest a slide in support for the ANC, which has won every parliamentary vote since the end of apartheid in 1994 but whose image has been tarnished by corruption scandals and a weak economy in the past decade.
Opinion polls suggest the ANC will again win a majority of the parliament’s 400 seats, but analysts say its margin of victory may fall from the 62 percent of the vote it secured in the last election in 2014 because of frustration with slow progress addressing racial disparities in income and wealth.
The ANC’s biggest challengers at these elections are the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The DA won 22 percent of the parliamentary vote in 2014 and the EFF six percent.
Most polling stations closed around 1900 GMT on Wednesday.