Voting period ends in South Africa's 2nd all-race election
Unofficial results due early Thursday
June 2, 1999
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- The official period for voting in South Africa's second all-race election ended at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT) on Wednesday, but officials said thousands remaining in line in the cold winter darkness would still be allowed to vote.
Unofficial election results were likely in the early hours of Thursday; the Independent Electoral Commission said it could take days to get official results.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) expected a landslide victory when the votes were counted from the second national, all-race election since the fall of apartheid, which had kept South Africa's black majority from voting for decades.
"It's a very wonderful occasion to be able to vote," said outgoing President Nelson Mandela, who was elected in 1994. "It gives me a wonderful feeling. The feeling is not as intense as it was in 1994, because I was exercising this right for the first time. But now, I am comparatively relaxed."
The 80-year-old Mandela, imprisoned for 27 years for his activism against apartheid, is retiring from political life. The newly-elected National Assembly will select his successor -- almost assured to be Deputy President Thabo Mbeki -- on June 14, and the new president will be sworn in two days later.
Mbeki said Wednesday's voting would be "free and fair."
"Indeed this ... demonstrates the commitment to a democratic system," he said, "the commitment for people to choose a government that they like without fear of intimidation, without being forced in any way."
Absent on voting day was the violence that plagued the previous election that ended white minority rule. Long lines -- though not as long as in 1994 -- queued smoothly into 14,650 polling stations under the watchful eyes of 100,000 police and soldiers deployed to keep the peace.
In rural areas, voters began to line up as early as six hours ahead of the 7 a.m. (2300 GMT Tuesday) start of balloting.
In Sharpeville -- scene of the apartheid era's worst massacre -- many voters said they came to the polls in part to honor the memories of the 69 people killed in 1960 when police fired on demonstrators protesting apartheid laws.
"My uncle died here," Mpiwakhe Khumalo said. "There is still no way the sadness could go, but by me voting, I am taking my country forward. I am looking into the future."
"The elections should give us hope," said Joseph Mpholo, a 31-year-old policeman on duty at the old police station where the massacre occurred. "People who died here were fighting for a just cause which we have to protect."
With opinion polls showing the ANC far ahead, two questions remained to be resolved by the election: whether or not the ruling party would pull two-thirds of the vote, giving it the power to amend South Africa's constitution, and which of 15 other parties would take second place and become the ANC's official opposition.
Polls showed the ANC garnering between 59 percent and 69 percent of the vote. It won with 62.5 percent in 1994.
The former apartheid National Party, renamed the The New National Party , and the liberal Democratic Party , which between them can claim the support of most whites, were vying for second place with polls giving each around 8 percent.
The dark horse candidate appeared to be the fledgling United Democratic Movement . The party was forged from a union between ANC renegade Bantu Holomisa, former military ruler of the apartheid-era black Transkei homeland, and former National Party strategist Roelf Meyer.
Up to 15 percent of the 18.2 million registered voters were still unsure who to vote for when the last surveys were conducted in April.
Johannesburg Bureau Chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Reuters contributed to this report.
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