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Election Losses Force Tough Racial Choices on Government

March 3, 1988

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ President P.W. Botha said Thursday his party’s election losses to the far right were ″temporary disappointments,″ but they will force tough choices about his cautious reform of racial policy.

Leaders of the Conservative Party were jubilant about the decisive victory over the National Party in two parliamentary by-elections Wednesday. They said it shows increasing numbers of whites want apartheid strengthened and oppose even a token role for the black majority in national politics.

Botha must decide whether to appease those voters or move ahead with reforms in spite of them. The far right sees his goal of limited power-sharing as surrender. Most black leaders and white liberals reject it as inadequate.

One of the few black leaders showing any sympathy for Botha was Kenneth Mopeli, chief minister of the Qwaqwa tribal homeland, who said the election results ″spell disaster for the country.″

″They not only signify a triumph for the policy of partition and fragmentation of the country, but also mean that the principle of power- sharing espoused by the National Party has been effectively opposed,″ he said.

Under Botha’s concept of power-sharing, South Africa’s 26 million blacks would have a voice in national policy but the 5 million whites would retain control.

He is unlikely to push for changes dramatic enough to win support from major black leaders, but made clear Thursday he does not want to be seen as caving in to the far right.

Economic, social and political reform must continue, the president said, but he cautioned in the same statement: ″Excessive demands often lead to excessive reactions.″

Frederik de Klerk, education minister and the National Party leader in Transvaal province, attributed Conservative success to the demise of a smaller far-right party and displeasure with new wage freezes imposed on government employees.

Both seats in Wednesday’s by-elections went to Conservatives in last May’s national white elections but the winners were forced to resign, one on a technicality and one because of bankruptcy.

De Klerk noted that while the Conservatives increased their winning margins compared to last year, National Party support was stable. Combined totals in the two rural Transvaal districts wwere 15,478 votes for the Conservatives and 11,830 for the Nationalists, compared with 12,718 and 11,575 last year.

Andries Treurnicht, Conservative Party leader, said the results would ″have a snowball effect″ in other elections.

His party is favored to win a special election later this month and appears likely to cut into National Party support in nationwide municipal contests in October.

Chris van der Heever, chief Conservative spokesman in Transvaal, predicted the 6-year-old party would win control of local councils throughout rural Transvaal and possibly in Pretoria and blue-collar urban areas. He said the party also expects to do well in coastal areas, where many whites protested the recent opening of beaches to blacks.

Van der Heever predicted the governing would put increasing emphasis on security and law-and-order issues. He and other Conservatives suggested the view that Botha’s crackdown last week on anti-apartheid groups, which provoked international outrage, was an election gimmick.

The independent Pretoria News said in an editorial Thursday: ″After being fed a diet of National Party racism for decades, it is not surprising that the farmers ... voted for the old precepts of that party as espoused now by Treurnicht.″

Botha insists his reform program does not threaten white interests, which he pledges to protect through continued segregation of housing, schools and health services.

It has few components so far.

One would allow a limited number of multiracial neighborhoods, subject to approval by residents and the government. Another, spurned by most prominent blacks, would form a ″national council″ where Botha would negotiate a new constitution with black leaders to bring the racial majority into national politics.

The National Party has been in power since 1948 and has firm control of the 178-member House of Assembly, with 133 seats to the Conservatives’ 22, but Conservatives won 26 percent of the vote nationwide last May and expect to gain many more seats in the next general election. The anti-apartheid Progressive Federal Party has 17 seats.

Separate Parliament chambers for people of mixed race and those of Indian descent were established in 1984, but have little power.

Both the National and Conservative parties rely heavily on support from Afrikaners, descendants of the Dutch settlers who arrived in the 17th century. Afrikaners make up about 60 percent of the white population.

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