After President P.W. Botha fell ill in January 1989, de Klerk was elected leader of the National Party and successfully opposed Botha's resumption of office after his recovery. De Klerk was formally elected president by South Africa's tricameral Parliament on September 14. He owed his political success to the power base he had built up in the Transvaal, where he had been chairman of the provincial National Party from 1982.
As president, de Klerk committed himself to speeding up the reform process begun by his predecessor and to initiating talks about a new postapartheid constitution with representatives of what were then the country's four designated racial groups (white, black, Coloured, and Asian [Indian]). Though faced with a strengthened right-wing opposition in Parliament (the Conservative Party), de Klerk quickly moved to release all important political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela (in 1990), and to lift the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan-African Congress. Thereafter, he frequently met with black leaders, and in 1991 his government passed legislation that repealed racially discriminatory laws affecting residence, education, public amenities, and health care in South Africa. In 1992 he called a referendum in which almost 69 percent of the country's white voters endorsed his reform policies. That same year, de Klerk undertook serious negotiations with Mandela and other black leaders over a proposed new constitution that would enfranchise the black majority and lead to all-race national elections. In the meantime his government continued to systematically dismantle the legislative basis for the apartheid system.
Under de Klerk's leadership, the governing National Party reached agreement
with the ANC in the summer of 1993 on a transition to majority rule.
De Klerk led his party's campaign in South Africa's first all-race elections
in April 1994, in which the ANC obtained a majority of seats in the
new National Assembly. De Klerk subsequently joined a government of
national unity formed by Mandela, taking the post of second deputy president.
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