JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- As a farewell present to Nelson Mandela, voters gave his African National Congress a decisive victory in South Africa's first election since the apartheid-ending vote of 1994.
Mandela, who will turn over the presidency to hand-picked successor Thabo Mbeki on June 16, saw his two election day wishes come true -- peaceful voting and an ANC victory.The South African Broadcasting Corp. projected the ANC would win at least a two-thirds majority, which would give the party unilateral power in Parliament to make constitutional changes. Five years ago, the ANC won 62 percent of the vote.
"In their millions, and without equivocation, the people of South Africa have renewed the mandate of the ANC to govern our country," Mbeki said in a victory speech. He promised to move quickly to the ease the plight of the country's millions of poor blacks.
"The people have directed us to move forward faster," he said, "so that the goal of a better life for all is achieved sooner rather than later."
Underscoring the transition to a new generation of ANC leadership, Mandela did not attend the rally. He said Wednesday that he was going on vacation; his spokesman said he was out of the country but wouldn't say where.
The voting stretched from Wednesday into Thursday because of long lines at many polling stations. With 65 percent of the polling stations reporting, the ANC had 65 percent support.
Running second behind the ANC with 10 percent was the Democratic Party, founded as an anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s but increasingly popular among many whites because of its shift to an anti-crime, anti-ANC stance.
The New National Party, which ruled for 46 years of the apartheid era, was in danger of losing its status as the largest opposition party with only 7 percent of the votes.
The Zulu-nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party had 8 percent of the vote, and an array of smaller parties trailed well behind.
Complete results were not expected until late Thursday at the earliest. Officials estimated that 85 percent of the 18.2 million registered voters cast ballots, just under the 87 percent turnout in the historic 1994 election.
Once again, the biggest winner was South African democracy itself. Voters waited in line sometimes for six or seven hours, yet only minor disturbances were reported, even in areas that five years ago were wracked by violence.
Mbeki, 56, who as deputy president has been running day-to-day government affairs for the past two years, is respected for his skills but doesn't enjoy the same level of affection as Mandela.
After his expected election as president by the Parliament, Mbeki will inherit power in a diverse nation that remains divided between wealthy whites and poor blacks, with Indian and mixed-race minorities groping to find their niche.
The country is beset by crime and a crumbling education system, with black unemployment at 42 percent and a spreading AIDS epidemic that has infected at least 3.6 million people.