JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa faces its first multiracial election without the participation of several major political parties as the Inkatha Freedom Party joined the Afrikaner Volksfront in refusing to register for the vote.
Last night was the deadline for parties to declare their participation in the April 27 election. Failure of these right-wing groups -- black and white -- to sign up makes it even more likely that the election will be subject to widespread violent disruptions.
The Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and the white, right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront were the most important member parties of the Freedom Alliance, a coalition seeking greater local autonomy under the new constitution.
The Volksfront announced Thursday night that it had decided not to participate, and, despite immediate offers of further negotiations from the government and the African National Congress (ANC), it stuck to that position.
Inkatha reaffirmed its non-participation stance at a meeting of its executive committee in the Natal city of Ulundi yesterday. The midnight deadline came and went with 14 parties signing up.
As with almost all deadlines during the process of turning the old South Africa into the new model, this one is not completely final.
The government and the ANC have left the door open for further negotiations, saying that Parliament can be recalled, not only to amend the new constitution more to the liking of the Freedom Alliance but also to change the election law to extend the sign-up time.
But, at this point, positions seem so entrenched that few expect that to happen.
The most important last-day sign-up for the elections was by the Pan Africanist Congress, which suspended its armed struggle against the South African government just a few weeks ago, announcing at that time that it would participate. It paid its $20,000 fee in cash, its president Clarence Makwetu telling reporters he was afraid a check might bounce.
A variety of small parties registered, including one formed over -- the breakfast table yesterday morning, an anti-tax outfit called Keep It Straight and Simple, or KISS.
The worries about Inkatha's absence focus on its strength in the Natal region, the traditional home of the Zulus, where the party's leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, heads the semi-autonomous KwaZulu homeland government.
The supporters of the Afrikaner Volksfront are widespread, thus more dispersed.
They are not identified with any one area, though that is exactly what they are after, a separate homeland for white Afrikaners, descendants of the original Dutch and French European settlers of South Africa.
It was Afrikaner domination of the all-white government that led to the entrenching of the apartheid system of racial separation.
Violence has already erupted from the right wing; its supporters, many of them members of various paramilitary groups, are apparently responsible for bombings of power line pylons, railroad tracks and political offices in farming areas west of Johannesburg. Police have made several arrests.
Thus far, almost all of the damage has been limited to property, but many right-wingers, either members of the neo-Nazi AWB or of the official military reserve commando units -- armed by the government -- talk openly and eagerly of armed resistance to a new black-dominated government.
But most observers are even more concerned about the absence of Inkatha from the elections.
The bulk of South Africa's deaths in political violence over the past five years have come in fighting between Inkatha supporters and those loyal to Nelson Mandela's ANC, considered to be a safe bet for victory in the April vote.
Inkatha supporters clearly have the capability of making election day chaotic in large areas of Natal and many urban townships where Inkatha loyalists are concentrated in the hostels that were originally built to house migrant laborers from Natal.
The current and future government's most potent weapon against Inkatha is control of the purse strings.
The KwaZulu government is supported by grants from South Africa. Without that money, Mr. Buthelezi loses his considerable powers of patronage, including control over salaries to various chiefs, even the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini.
One strategy of the government and the ANC has been to try to drive a wedge between Mr. Buthelezi and the king, hoping to persuade the popular Zulu monarch to urge participation in the elections, securing some sort of official standing in the new South Africa in return.
But, according to published reports, last week the king approached state president Frederick W. de Klerk with demands even more extreme than those of Mr. Buthelezi, asking that he become the sovereign monarch of all of Natal, which would become an autonomous Zulu kingdom. Mr. de Klerk and the king are scheduled to meet in Durban tomorrow to discuss the issue further.