South African président Cyril Ramaphosa meets with senior officials of...

South African président Cyril Ramaphosa meets with senior officials of the ANC during an ANC's National Executive Committee Thursday, June 13, 2024, at a Cape Town hotel. South Africa's Parliament is due to elect a president Friday while major political parties are still working out a coalition agreement that might or might not see Ramaphosa return for a second term as leader of Africa's most industrialized economy. Credit: AP/Jerome Delay

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — South Africa’s African National Congress party said Thursday that it has a broad agreement with the main opposition and other parties to form a coalition government and end a political deadlock after the ANC lost its 30-year majority in an election two weeks ago.

The announcement came on the eve of the first sitting of South Africa’s new Parliament, when lawmakers will elect a president. The ANC needs help from other parties to reelect President Cyril Ramaphosa for a second and final term.

The ANC lost its long-held parliamentary majority in the May 29 vote.

ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula told reporters that the main opposition Democratic Alliance and others had agreed on the “fundamental” principle of forming a “government of national unity” with the ANC, but he noted that finer details of the agreement had not been finalized yet.

Talks would continue on some points and the “exact ingredients,” Mbalula said.

“We have reached a major breakthrough that the majority of political parties in our country have agreed to work together,” Mbalula said after a meeting of the ANC's top leadership in Cape Town, which included Ramaphosa.

Mbalula said the framework of the agreement would likely be made public on Friday “as we move tomorrow to elect the president.” He did not say if there was an agreement that would see Ramaphosa reelected, though, adding “we don’t know who is going to be elected.”

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There was no immediate comment from the Democratic Alliance, the party seen as the key to making the coalition government work.

A broad agreement was the first priority for the ANC to get Ramaphosa reelected with the help of others. Analysts had previously said that the exact details of how the parties would work together and share power in government going forward would likely be worked out later.

The negotiations faced a deadline to reach a general agreement because South Africa's constitution dictates that Parliament has to sit for the first time and elect a president within 14 days of the national election results being officially declared. The deadline is Sunday and Parliament was called to convene on Friday to meet that deadline.

While Mbalula named several parties that had agreed to the principle of joining the unity government, the Democratic Alliance is the most crucial. The ANC won the largest share of the vote in the election with 40% and the DA the second largest share with 21%. Together they would hold a clear majority in Parliament and be able to govern and elect Ramaphosa — if that's the agreement.

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“We are in no position to govern this country alone,” Mbalula said. “We need to work with others.”

One of the smaller parties, the Inkatha Freedom Party, had already announced Wednesday night that it would join the unity government.

The ANC — the party of Nelson Mandela — had governed South Africa ever since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in 1994. But it lost that dominance in this year’s election in an historic change in the country’s politics. South Africa has never had a coalition government at national level in its three decades as a democracy since the end of apartheid.

The election of a president has also never been so uncertain. Because of the ANC's clear majority previously, it was merely a formality that its leader would be elected president.

Mbalula said the ANC had discussions with all 17 other parties that are represented in Parliament, including the very smallest ones with just one seat. They were all invited to join the unity government, he said. Some have refused.

Two other major parties, the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters and the new MK Party of former President Jacob Zuma — once the leader of the ANC — have said they will not be part of the government of national unity and have criticized it. MK has also said its 58 new lawmakers will boycott the first sitting of Parliament on Friday, although that is unlikely to affect the vote to elect a president.

A third of lawmakers need to be present to constitute a quorum and for votes to go ahead and the ANC has more than a third of seats on its own. Lawmakers are also expected to elect Parliament's new speaker and deputy speaker before the vote for the president, and those choices will likely be determined by the agreements reached between the parties in the unity government.

___

Magome reported from Johannesburg.

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