For the sixth time in a row since the end of apartheid, the party of the late Nelson Mandela will form the majority in South Africa's parliament, the electoral commission chairman said on Saturday.
In a formal ceremony in Pretoria, South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission announced the official results of the May 8 election. In the televised ceremony, the commission also declared the election was free and fair.
Former African statesmen, Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete and Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan, who led observer missions, also declared the election free and fair.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) remains in power, but with its lowest-ever vote share at 57.5%, according to the electoral commission.
In South Africa's proportional representation system, the ANC will hold 230 seats in power, said the electoral commission's chairman, Glen Mashinini.
The official website on Saturday showed the ANC with the largest vote share after 100% of the ballots had been counted in all 22,925 districts.
The ANC's main challenger, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was on 20.8%. The radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) nearly doubled its result from the last elections, winning 10.8%. The DA will hold 84 seats, while the EFF will take 44.
More than 17.6 million votes were cast. South Africa's voter turnout is steadily declining, with 66% of eligible voters casting their ballot this time around. In 2014, 73.4% of the electorate cast their ballots, while in 2009, voter turnout stood at 77.3%.
A record 48 parties contested the 2019 national election, but only 14 parties achieved enough votes to enter the National Assembly.
"Despite the rapid growth in number of political parties contesting the national election since 1994, the number of political parties represented in parliament has remained fairly constant," Mashinini said.
The commission also counted 235,449 spoilt ballots. The reason for this relatively high figure is still unknown. Analysts say it could range from voter frustration to confusion over an unusually long ballot paper.
In the months running up to the election, political parties and the commission canvassed voters under the age of 25. Youth groups say young voters feel excluded from South Africa's political class, which is dominated by liberation movements born out of the apartheid era.
"Many young people are sitting outside the fold of voting activity and we want them to participate much more," said incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa. In his address as head of state, Ramaphosa said two elderly voters died while voting, and sent condolences to their families. Ramaphosa also paid tribute to the rival parties.
"Yes there was a lot of contestation, there was a lot of exchange of wonderful words to each other, difficult words, harsh words to each other, but we were all in a contest," Ramaphosa said as the crowd laughed. Politicians, diplomats, observers and members of the media filled the results hall.
The election was, however, marred by accusations of voter irregularities from smaller parties. In a televised news conference on the floor of the national results center in Pretoria, smaller parties banded together late Friday, saying they may challenge the Independent Electoral Commission's result due to concerns over double voting.
On Thursday, the local press reported that more than 20 people were arrested for voting twice. In a televised news conference on Saturday, the electoral commission said that it would investigate the incidents, but would not delay releasing the results over the matter.
South Africa has been reeling from almost a decade of corruption scandals under former president Jacob Zuma, who was forced to resign last year and is currently on trial.
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Zuma, has promised a "new dawn" for the country.