Stampede to vote sparks ballot shortage in South Africa (Lead)

Johannesburg, April 23 (Inditop) Voting continued past the official close of polls in South Africa’s fourth democratic national and provincial elections Wednesday, as a high turnout and organisational disarray caused long delays at polling stations.

Millions of voters braved chilly weather and rain to vote in elections deemed to be the most exciting since Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) swept to power at the end of apartheid in 1994.

About 19,000 polling stations nationwide officially closed at 9 p.m., after 14 hours of voting. But with large numbers of people still waiting in line, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said voting stations would remain open past midnight if necessary.

The turnout in some places was so high that some polling stations ran out of ballot papers, prompting the IEC to rush to print two million extra ballots – one million each for the national and provincial elections.

The IEC said the problem was caused by people voting outside their registered areas, creating bottlenecks in others, and that the extra ballots were merely a “contingency measure.”

The election authority said it had printed 58 million ballots for a little over 23 million registered voters, 2.4 million more than the last general elections in 2004. The IEC has predicted a voter turnout of about 80 percent.

The election to the 400-seat National Assembly and nine provincial assemblies, which was observed by 5,000 domestic and more than 300 international observers, passed off peacefully, despite minor irregularities.

An electoral officer was arrested in KwaZulu-Natal province after being found in possession of a bunch of pre-marked ballots.

Counting was due to start immediately after the end of voting, with first results expected early Thursday. The IEC said final results could take two days.

After increasing its majority to 70 percent over the three previous elections, the ANC is fighting to retain its more than two-thirds tally in the face of new opposition from the Congress of the People (COPE), a party of ANC dissidents.

ANC leader Jacob Zuma, who is poised to become the fourth democratic president, was mobbed by supporters as he cast his vote in his home village of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal, four years after he was fired as deputy president on suspicion of corruption.

The controversial but popular Zuma, who is dogged by suspicion of corruption in a state arms deal, despite the state abruptly dropping the case on the eve of the vote, said it felt great to vote in free elections.

Emblematic former ANC leader Nelson Mandela also received a warm response from ululating voters as he exercised the right for which he spent 27 years in prison, near his home in Johannesburg.

COPE, which was formed by a group of ANC members loyal to ousted ex-president Thabo Mbeki and is fronted by Methodist bishop Mvume Dandala, was predicted to poll between 5 and 15 percent after a lacklustre campaign.

The Democratic Alliance of Cape Town mayor Helen Zille, which won 12 percent of the vote in 2004 and is aiming to win Western Cape province from the ANC, was forecast to remain the official opposition.