South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is firmly ahead in the race for head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), garnering more than twice as many party nominations as his sole challenger, according to a tally issued Tuesday.
Ramaphosa, 70, has polled 2,037 nominations from party branches against 916 for his rival Zweli Mkhize, 66, an ex-health minister who resigned from government last year amid graft allegations, the party said.
"These are the two names nominated for position of (party) president," Kgalema Motlanthe, former president of South Africa and head of the ANC's electoral panel, told a news conference in Johannesburg.
The ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, spearheaded the fight against apartheid and has governed South Africa since the advent of democracy in 1994.
It is due to hold a conference between December 16 and 20 to elect the party's top leadership.
Whoever wins is likely to be the head of state after the 2024 national elections, if the ANC wins that vote.
Although party branches vary in size and how many delegates vote in each, the nominations can be indicative of the outcome.
Votes will be cast in person by branch representatives on the first day of the conference.
Ramaphosa is seeking a second term at the helm after succeeding his scandal-tainted former boss, ex-president Jacob Zuma, in 2018.
Ramaphosa's bid comes despite facing the risk of possible impeachment for allegedly covering up a 2020 crime.
Parliament will debate on December 6 whether he should answer allegations that he concealed a multi-million dollar cash theft at his farm.
Analysts have said Ramaphosa, who is currently in the United Kingdom for the first state visit hosted by King Charles III as monarch, stands a reasonable chance of staying on as ANC leader despite the controversy.
"Ramaphosa is still in a very strong position to be re-elected," said Sithembile Mbete, lecturer in political sciences lecturer at the University of Pretoria.
"It seems a majority of the branches want to vote for Ramaphosa," she said.
Pearl Mncube, an independent political analyst, said "while he (Ramaphosa) has been facing a decline in popularity over the years, his campaign has been the strongest so far".
The once revered 110-year-old ANC has seen its popularity decline, with voters for the first time turning their backs on the party during last year's local government elections.
It won only 46 percent of the ballots cast nationally -- by far its worst showing since the end of white-minority rule.
Its fortunes are unlikely to swing much in the next national elections in 2024.
Polls suggest that support for the ANC will dip below 50 in the next national polls, said Mbete.
But the "ANC will most probably remain the biggest single party and will probably be able to form a coalition government", she said.