African National Congress (ANC) members have supported South African President Thabo Mbeki's rival -- a populist politician whose reputation has withstood rape and corruption trials -- in an important vote ahead of the race for leadership of the governing party.
If Jacob Zuma wins the real vote at next month's party convention, it almost guarantees he will become South Africa's next president.
In three days of voting in provincial and internal party organizations that ended on Monday, Mbeki won four of nine provinces, all with close votes. In his stronghold in Eastern Cape province, he won 520 votes to 322 for Zuma. The biggest upset was in Gauteng province, which includes the economic capital Johannesburg, where Mbeki lost to Zuma by 94 votes to 262.
The ANC Youth League, which also participated in the voting, supported Zuma. The ANC Women's League met for hours on Monday and still had not announced its decision by early evening.
While the voting was not binding, it was a clear cry for change. Mbeki has alienated rank-and-file party members with a leadership style seen as aloof and exclusive, and economic policies seen as favoring big business and failing to improve life for the poor.
While Mbeki has charmed South Africa's white-led business community, Zuma's populist tactics have wowed the poor and unemployed who have not benefited from 14 years of black rule.
Zuma has spent the last couple of weeks meeting with business leaders, trying to allay their fears.
Mbeki had sought an unprecedented third term as ANC president, analysts say, to flout the ambitions of his one-time protege.