"The outcome is not in doubt," says The Economist of South Africa's fourth election since apartheid ended in 1994. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is set to win by a landslide, with its populist leader, Jacob Zuma, becoming the new president.
But what next? "Will Africa's biggest economy continue along the path to a stable multi-party democracy? Or will it sink into despotism?"
Attention has centred on Zuma, a man "widely regarded in his own country as a crook", says Chris McGreal in The Guardian. Bribery and racketeering charges against him were recently dropped only because of "political interference".
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And it wasn't Zuma's first run-in with the courts. He was acquitted of rape in 2006, but his attitudes towards sex he has said that showering protects him from HIV meant "his victory came at a price to his reputation", says Alec Russell in the FT. However, South Africa's problems run far deeper than Zuma.
The ANC used its high-profile leader's troubles as a "decoy", and the media and opposition let the party get away with it "mundane matters" such as education, poverty and healthcare have barely been debated, says Business Day. As a result, the ANC will get a fresh mandate "without being pressed to justify the faith that South Africans have placed in it since 1994".
Yet after 15 years in power, "the inspiring liberation movement that fought apartheid has settled into flabby middle age," says Robyn Dixon in the Chicago Tribune. "Service delivery has been poor", which is why ANC campaign posters for 'Better Health' and 'More Jobs' "look more like opposition promises."These issues are not Zuma's fault, says McGreal: Thabo Mbeki, the man who Zuma forced out as ANC leader and president, cost "countless lives" with his own views on Aids, while he ignored corruption because the allegations "played to what he saw as stereotypes about African leaders".
But the worst-case scenario is that once Zuma is in power, we could see "the growth of a Big Man personality cult design to mask South Africa's growing social and economic problems", says Russell.
It would have been better to have a less-damaged, younger leader take over. "Instead, South Africa looks set to enter a new age of uncertainty."
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