Following the surprise announcement of President PW Botha that he had decided to step down as leader of the National Party, the party’s caucus decided there and then to elect a new leader immediately.  There were four candidates: Chris Heunis, the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, Pik Botha, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Barend du Plessis, the Minister of Finance and FW de Klerk, the Minister of National Education.  The new leader would require the votes of 66 members of of the 130-person caucus to win.

According to FW de Klerk’s autobiography

“In the end there were three rounds of voting.  In the first round Minister Pik Botha  was eliminated…. In the second round Minister Chris Heunis fell out.  It was thus Minister Barend du Plessis and myself in the final round. The final result was announced with the number of votes that each of the two candidates had received.  I had received 69 votes to the 61 of Mr Du Plessis.  I had won by the skin of my teeth!

Later the whole process of the voting was made known and an interesting pattern emerged.  I had already received 59 votes in the first round – only seven fewer than I needed for an absolute majority.  Barend du Plessis had received 30 votes,  Chris Heunis, 25 and Pik Botha 16.  In the second round I gained five more votes.  With 64 votes I was just two short of an absolute majority.  Barend du Plessis had then receive 40 and Chris Heunis 26.  And so in the third round I received only five of Chris Heunis’s 26 votes, while Barend du Plessis picked up an impressive 21.

The voting pattern carried with it an interesting message.  My interpretation of it was that there was an urgent desire among many members of the caucus to move quickly ahead with reform.”

“The Last Trek: a New Beginning”, FW de Klerk, pp 133-134