JACOB ZUMA, the mercurial leader of African National Congress, is poised to become South Africa's fourth president to be elected in the post-apartheid era.
The major unknown in tomorrow's poll is just what sort of president Mr Zuma - following in the footsteps of the Nobel peace laureate Nelson Mandela and the aloof Thabo Mbeki - will prove to be.
During the campaign Mr Zuma has shown no pretensions to international statesmanship or exhibited any signs of being a "denialist' like Mr Mbeki, who refused to acknowledge the AIDS crisis or President Robert Mugabe's disasters in Zimbabwe.
While an emphatic ANC victory seems certain according to all the opinion polls, the major issue is whether the ANC can snare a two-thirds parliamentary majority it needs to make decisive and controversial constitutional changes.
After 15 years of ANC rule there are signs voters may be losing patience with the party that delivered them from apartheid but has failed to deliver on education, crime and health. Polls suggest the Zuma team will struggle to get more than 64 per cent of the vote, 4 points down on the 2004 poll.
Of the nation's 47 million people, 43 per cent live in poverty, untouched by its modernised economy. Some 5.2 million are HIV-positive. AIDS has made an estimated 3 million children orphans, yet there is no comprehensive testing. More than 80,000 people have tuberculosis.
Mr Zuma has hinted at the need to transform the judiciary and the media, but has refused to say how. He is backed by the communist party and militant trade unions, leading to fears he may make a policy lurch to the left. At his last election rally in Johannesburg on Sunday he said there was "still much more to be done" to improve learning in schools and to curb violent crime. He indicated reform of the entire education system was his most urgent challenge.
South Africa spends massive amounts on schooling to produce some of the lowest illiteracy and numeracy rates in Africa. A recent national survey revealed outcomes are worse than in neighbouring Zimbabwe, regarded by many as a failed stated.
During the election campaign Mr Zuma, a skilled negotiator and astute tactician, has been unable to escape from the shadows of a corruption controversy despite the recent decision of the National Prosecutor's Office to drop racketeering and money laundering charges against him.
Mr Zuma's friend and adviser, Schabir Shaik, was jailed for 15 years for, among other things, giving him more than $US200,000 in bribes. Shaik was recently released from prison on medical grounds. Mr Zuma strenuously denied all the charges, claiming they were part of a political conspiracy to prevent him from becoming president.
Another unknown is how the traditionally weak opposition and myriad independent parties will perform. The Democrat Alliance, headed by the white liberal Helen Zille, cornered 12 per cent of the vote last time and is hoping to do better.
Ms Zille, a former journalist, has campaigned hard, slamming the decision to drop corruption charges against Mr Zuma. She told a campaign rally this week that "corrupt leaders make people poorer" and that Mr Zuma "belonged in court" to answer the 783 charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
"If he is too afraid to go to court, we will always say he is guilty," she said.
Speaking a mixture of Xhosa, Zulu and English, Ms Zille said: "Everybody in the ANC wants to be friends with Jacob Zuma, because they think when they are friends with him they will get away with anything."
Polls confirm the corruption issue is biting, but not enough to trouble the ANC or Mr Zuma.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.