JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- With considerable early confusion and no certain results, the people of South Africa watched expectantly yesterday as the vote counting began in the nation's first fully democratic elections.
The results, which will take days to tally, are expected to bring the election of Nelson Mandela, the former political prisoner of the white regime, as the nation's first black president.
Hopes for an early clear trend in the counting, however, receded in a maze of problems, including confused and ill-prepared administrative procedures, some striking elections workers, and heated charges of tampering by some politicians.
The net result was a day of frustration for the 20 million South African voters who wanted to know the outcome of the nation's first racially integrated parliamentary elections, which chose a new government of national reconstruction to end apartheid.
While a panel of more than 300 international monitors certified the four-day balloting period as essentially free and fair, the public was left with few early clues about trends in the creation of a new government to be shared by the competing parties according to their share of the popular vote.
After the first 12 hours of tallying, an inconclusive fragment of less than 1 percent of the total vote was announced. Officials promised an improvement but reminded voters that the law provides for as long as 10 days for the count.
Unofficially, party workers asserted that early unreleased figures bore out expectations that Mr. Mandela's African National Congress would take the national lead, followed by the National Party of President F. W. de Klerk, who is expected to become chief deputy president under the new constitutional procedures of power sharing.
So far, South Africans have tuned in to nonstop television coverage from a high-tech election commission center and from a TV studio.
Here in the most populous region, counting was particularly chaotic after various partisan tally watchers got into a dispute over some late-returning ballots.
All work stopped before it had begun. "We're going to the bush!" one angry Zulu politician shouted. "This is civil war!"
The man was eventually calmed as officials charged with managing the elections got the count under way in about 10 percent of the central counting stations here. There were similar problems reported in other regions.
Even before the first numbers materialized, some of the likely losers, including the Pan African Congress, reserved the right to reject the findings.
The possibility of "hanky panky" was raised by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the often balky leader of the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party. But he did not threaten to resume his boycott of the electoral process.
Besides a national parliament and president, the count of a second ballot is to settle the composition of nine new provincial parliaments.