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World - Africa

South African voter registration marred by chaos

Confusion and chaos have surrounded two massive voter registration drives in South Africa  
February 1, 1999
Web posted at: 11:58 p.m. EST (0458 GMT)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- Efforts to register voters for South Africa's second democratic election have been plagued by disorganization and political squabbling.

Two massive drives to register voters have resulted in chaos and confusion, fueling speculation that elections will be postponed.

The constitution mandates that elections must be held before the end of July, and officials had hoped to schedule a vote in May.

But the first registration drive last November disappointed many after the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) estimated that only 37 percent of the potential 25 million voters were registered.

Confusion and disorganization kept most people away. Even South African President Nelson Mandela showed up at the wrong station and couldn't register.

The second voter registration drive this past weekend was plagued by more problems.

In an effort to cut down on the irregularities that plagued the 1994 election, the government issued new bar-coded identity documents to all potential voters.

But the registration machines didn't work at many polling places, forcing long delays as workers took down information by hand.

Adding to the turmoil surrounding the bar codes are charges by the New National Party (NNP) and liberal Democratic Party that the documents favor black voters. White voters tend to have the older ID documents without bar codes.

Budget battles

A commission estimated that only 37 percent of South Africa's voters were registered  

The second registration drive also was plagued by the resignation of IEC Chairman Johann Kriegler just days before.

Kriegler, who ran South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994, frequently clashed with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) over budget issues, complaining that the commission needed more funding to ensure free and fair elections.

Mandela's likely successor, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, lead the second registration drive amid concerns about apathy among South Africa's younger voters. The same group who sacrificed so much in the battle against apartheid have so far failed to register for the 1999 elections.

"When we say the people shall govern, we mean the people shall govern and what that means is we must register," Mbeki told a youth rally.

Correspondent Cynde Strand and Reuters contributed to this report.

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