Early in 1989 Botha suffered a stroke. He decided to resign as party leader but to stay on as president. F.W. de Klerk was elected new party leader. As the government stumbled on with two centres of power rallying around De Klerk and Botha, its electoral base was steadily eroded from both the left and the right. The Democratic Party, formed in April 1989 after the Progressive Federal Party incorporated several independents who had broken away from the National Party, now challenged the ruling party as the only genuine vehicle of reform.
In the general election in September 1989 the National Party lost 27 seats but retained enough to avoid a hung parliament. Its main platform was a vague promise to negotiate a new political system within five years. Botha had resigned after a showdown with his cabinet a few weeks before the election. De Klerk became acting president and was formally elected as president after the election.