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HomeNewsInternational NewsSouth African President Cyril Ramaphosa set for reelection after dramatic last-minute coalition...

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa set for reelection after dramatic last-minute coalition deal

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was expected to be reelected for a second term Friday after his African National Congress party signed a last-minute coalition agreement with its long-time political rival during the first sitting of the new Parliament.

John Steenhuisen, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, the second biggest party, said there was now a signed agreement with the ANC to co-govern Africa’s most industrialized country. The agreement, which Steenhuisen said involved DA lawmakers backing Ramaphosa for a second term, came ahead of when lawmakers were expected to elect a president later in the session.

The ANC and the DA together hold a majority of seats in the 400-member Parliament to ensure Ramaphosa is reelected. It may not even need a vote if Ramaphosa is the only candidate nominated for president later Friday, because he would then be reelected automatically.

“From today, the DA will co-govern the Republic of South Africa in a spirit of unity and collaboration,” Steenhuisen said, calling it an “historic step forward.”

Steenhuisen said Ramaphosa should continue as president because the ANC got the largest share of votes in last month’s national election, even though it lost its Parliamentary majority for the first time since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in 1994.

That meant a weakened ANC needed a coalition agreement to reelect the 71-year-old Ramaphosa and govern the country, leaving South Africa in an unprecedented political deadlock.

Two other smaller parties will also be part of the governing coalition, the first coalition at national level in South Africa’s democratic history. The coalition was agreed in principle late Thursday, but talks had continued throughout the night and even on the sidelines of the parliamentary session before the final details were agreed and a document signed.

It brings together two of the country’s longest and fiercest political rivals, with the ANC and the DA previously at loggerheads for years as ruling party and main opposition. The DA has been the loudest critic of the ANC but will now likely help continue the ANC’s three-decade hold on the presidency.

The two parties will work together in a “government of national unity” and both have said they need to find common ground to solve some of the country’s pressing problems that include extremely high levels of unemployment and inequality. The DA would receive positions in Cabinet under the agreement, Steenhuisen said.

The DA is a centrist party that’s seen as business-friendly, but it is also the only major party that is led by a white leader in a country where more than 80% of the population are Black.

An ANC-DA agreement was seen as complex because of their ideological differences, and there has been scepticism of a deal between the two given the ANC is the party that famously liberated South Africa from white minority rule.

While Ramaphosa is the only likely candidate for president and no one else has so far been suggested or put forward, other lawmakers can nominate a candidate during the Parliament session, the first since the landmark May 29 national election. Ramaphosa smiled and shook hands with members of his party as he arrived for the session before taking his seat.

The sitting was being overseen by the chief justice and Parliament first swore in hundreds of lawmakers for a new term before it could elect a speaker, a deputy speaker and then the president. It was likely to take hours. The 400-seat lower house of Parliament, called the National Assembly, will vote by secret ballot for all those positions if more than one candidate is nominated. A majority of votes cast is required.

The ANC had faced a deadline to cobble together a coalition agreement given Parliament must sit for the first time and vote for the president within 14 days of the election results being declared.

South Africa had not faced this level of political uncertainty since the ANC swept to power in the first all-race election in 1994 that ended nearly a half-century of racial segregation.

The party had held a clear majority in Parliament since then, meaning parliamentary votes for the president were formalities and every South African leader since had been from the ANC, starting with Nelson Mandela. Last month’s national election changed that as the ANC’s share of the vote slumped to 40%. The DA won the second largest share of the vote with 21%, making it the key party in the coalition talks.

The unity government also harked back to the way Mandela, South Africa’s first Black president, invited political opponents to be part of a new unity government in 1994 in an act of reconciliation. The ANC’s hand was forced this time.

At least one party, the MK Party of former ANC leader and South African President Jacob Zuma, said it would boycott the first sitting and its 58 lawmakers would not take their seats. That did not affect the voting procedure as South Africa’s constitution says that at least one third of the 400 lawmakers need to be present for a quorum and for votes to take place.

Parliament also convened in an unusual setting after a fire in 2022 gutted the National Assembly building in Cape Town. It has not yet been restored and so lawmakers would decide the next leader of their country at a conference center near the city’s waterfront.

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