The National Party, which governed South Africa for four decades under apartheid, said Thursday that it would withdraw from President Nelson Mandela's national unity government.
Mandela's African National Congress has a large majority in Parliament and can continue to govern with a wide base of support. Still, the defection of the white-led National Party threatened to create the perception of a crisis, because the participation of minority parties in the government had been a stabilizing force in the transition to democracy.Financial markets were volatile Thursday as investors weighed the implications of a National Party pullout. The expectation that it might happen was enough to trigger an 11-cent drop in the rand against the dollar since late Tuesday.
Party leader F.W. de Klerk, the country's deputy president and its last apartheid president, announced the decision a day after South Africa adopted a new constitution that his party helped to shepherd through despite strong reservations.
There had been indications earlier that the party, which has been chafing under the ANC's dominance, would withdraw from the government once the charter was adopted.
Mandela said before the announcement that the move would be regrettable.
"It will help neither them nor ourselves," he said.
De Klerk said he and other National Party ministers would resign from the government on June 30 to give Mandela time to appoint successors and ensure an orderly transition.
"Since the new constitution does not provide for the continuation of any form of joint decision-making in the executive branch of government, we have decided that the time has come for us to play our full role as the main opposition party," de Klerk said.
"The National Party has felt for some time now that our influence within the government of national unity has been declining," he continued. "The ANC is acting more and more as if they no longer need multiparty government."
But in a message intended to reassure investors and the business community, he added: "The basic economic policies of the GNU (government of national unity) are sound. We have no reason to believe that the ANC has any intention of deviating from the course that they themselves have been co-instrumental in charting."
The new charter, adopted Wednesday, calls for a majority-rule government, giving the party that wins more than half the seats in Parliament the power to choose a president, who would form the government.
Under the current system, Mandela was required to include in the Cabinet minority parties that received at least 10 percent of the vote in the 1994 election.