Voting begins in South Africa’s crucial elections

South Africans on Wednesday began voting to elect national and provincial lawmakers in a contest believed to be the tightest since the first post-apartheid democratic elections of 1994.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time (0600GMT) and will close at 9 p.m.

There are over 27 million registered voters in the country of some 62 million people.

Crowds of people waiting to cast their votes could be seen in parts of Johannesburg as early as 6.30 a.m., despite the cold weather.

South Africans are voting for lawmakers of provincial legislatures and 400 members of parliament, known as the National Assembly. Voting is on a party basis and the parties get seats in the parliament.

These national lawmakers will then elect the president, which means that the party which wins the election gets ultimate power in the country.

There are a record 70 registered political parties contesting in these elections, but all eyes are on the ruling African National Congress party (ANC), the Democratic Alliance (DA), the largest opposition force in parliament, and the Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF) which is the third largest.

“I want to see change in my country. There is high unemployment, crime and corruption. I hope my vote will bring change,’’ Soweto resident Nkosi Maluleke told Anadolu after casting his vote.

Another voter who did not give her name told Anadolu she cast her ballot because it is her democratic right. “During apartheid we never had the opportunity to vote, now we do and our vote counts,’’ she said.

The ANC once led by the late global icon Nelson Mandela, which has governed South Africa for three decades, faces its toughest elections with experts and opinion polls suggesting it might not get the required 51% to govern without forming a coalition.

It is also the first time in the country’s history that the former president of the ANC which has ruled South Africa since attaining democracy in 1994 is leading an opposition party to challenge his former group.

Jacob Zuma, 82, a former ANC leader who served for two terms, is backing the Umkonto We sizwe political (MK) party which is seen as a threat to Mandela’s movement.

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