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South African President joins key party meeting on new government formation

South African président Cyril Ramaphosa, center, meets with senior officials of his African   -  
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Jerome Delay/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa met with senior officials of the African National Congress on Thursday to decide how to go about forming a government after the party lost its 30-year grip on power and left a post-election deadlock.

The party's National Executive Committee was meeting in Johannesburg to work through a split within the party's ranks over which direction to take. ANC lost its long-held majority in last week's vote but remained the biggest party, and now needs some form of agreement with others to run Africa's most industrialized country.

ANC has indicated it's leaning toward a government of national unity that would bring together many of the political parties in a broad agreement, rather than a direct coalition with the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, or DA.

"We want to bring everybody on board," ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula said before Thursday's meeting, which was likely to last all day. Mbalula said a government of national unity was being proposed to the NEC to decide on, but he expected there to be debate and disagreement.

ANC is the party that was once led by Nelson Mandela and freed South Africa from the apartheid system of white minority rule by winning the country's historic first all-race vote in 1994. It had seen a gradual decline in its support over the last 20 years as South Africa struggles with high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The National Executive Committee that includes more than 80 of the ANC's top officials is expected to be the body to decide on which direction it will take.

There's no guarantee that all the other parties will accept the idea of a government of national unity, even as South Africa's political leaders are under some time pressure to decide on the way forward as the newly elected Parliament must sit for the first time by June 16, with one of its first priorities to elect a president.

The South African president is seeking a second term in office, and the agreement being sought will also decide if Ramaphosa is reelected. South African elections decide how many seats each party gets in Parliament and lawmakers then elect the president. Because ANC only won 40% of the vote and lost its parliamentary majority for the first time, it needs others to join with it to reelect Ramaphosa for his final term.

A coalition between ANC and the centrist DA had been touted as the likeliest option to co-govern South Africa as the two would hold a clear majority after DA won the second biggest share of the vote with 21%.

But that has met resistance from grassroots ANC structures as well as some of its political allies, like South Africa's congress of trade unions.

DA could also be opposed to a wide-ranging agreement involving many political parties given it has insisted it will never work with two of them — the new populist MK Party of former President Jacob Zuma and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters. They won the third and fourth biggest shares of the vote.

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