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In South Africa, Zuma Poised to Assume Presidency

As South Africans cast ballots Wednesday in a parliamentary election that will determine a new president, forecasts show the ruling party's Jacob Zuma is likely to win. NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault describes the challenges that will confront the nation's new leader, including rising unemployment and high crime rates.

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    The polls have now officially closed in South Africa's fourth national election since the end of apartheid 15 years ago.

    Voters are choosing members of parliament, who will pick a president, and that choice is widely expected to be Jacob Zuma, a one-time anti-apartheid fighter and head of the ruling African National Congress Party.

    Zuma and the ANC face a formidable list of problems: rising unemployment, officially at 22 percent and believed to be double that; an HIV-AIDS crisis; and high crime rates.

    For more, we go to Charlayne Hunter-Gault of National Public Radio in Pretoria.

    And, Charlayne, welcome. You were at the polls today. Tell us what the turnout was like and what the atmosphere was like.

  • CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT, National Public Radio:

    This has been the most amazing turnout since I covered the 1994 elections for the NewsHour, in fact. The lines were very, very long. People stood in line from 3 o'clock this morning.

    And the polls, as you just said, have officially closed, but there are people standing in line now. One man I heard on the radio coming over here to this studio saying he had been in line since 8 o'clock this morning. It's now after 9 o'clock, and he hasn't had a chance to vote.

    So there's a real excitement in the air. As the electoral commission has said, this is like a watershed, a one-of-a-kind election.