South Africa Sees High Voter Turnout With Long Poll Queues

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s electoral commission said it expects turnout in Wednesday’s national election to be higher than the 66% recorded five years ago, with people standing for hours in long queues waiting to cast their ballots.

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The first results are expected after 1 a.m. on Thursday, Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo told a media briefing near Johannesburg.

“We are in for a higher turnout than we had in 2019,” he said. “It’s the single-most intention of the commission at this point to ensure that every voter who is on the queue is given their chance to make their choice.”

The ruling African National Congress is targeting higher turnout to ensure it retains its parliamentary majority, which opinion polls show the party risks losing for the first time since it came to power in 1994. The ANC’s head of elections, Mdumiseni Ntuli, told top party leaders last month that it’s most optimistic forecast for turnout was 70%, as it targets the support of 11 million voters to retain its current share of the vote.

Still, polling company Ipsos said earlier this month that higher voter turnout may result in a lower share of the vote for the ANC and lead to increased support for opposition parties, including the business-friendly Democratic Alliance and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters.

The ANC has won every vote since White-minority rule ended, but its support has slipped from a peak of almost 70% in 2004 to 57.5% in 2019.

Turnout as a percentage of the voting-age population plummeted to 47.3% in 2019, compared with 85.5% at the nation’s first democratic vote in 1994, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

(Updates with ANC turnout target in fourth paragraph, Ipsos prediction in fifth.)

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