By Mariette le Roux
After eight years at the helm of Africa's economic powerhouse, Thabo Mbeki cuts an increasingly lonely figure as the battle for the reins of South Africa's ruling ANC approaches its finale.
As well as taking fresh blows from his political foes, the president has also become the target of senior ANC members.
Among those taking aim in recent days have been presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale, ANC labour alliance partner Cosatu and even a risk ratings agency.
And with Mbeki's public support at a four-year low, talk of an alternative candidate for the ANC presidency at a conference in mid-December is gathering pace.
"A significant number of people have lost faith in the president because they perceive he does not take them seriously, that he does not inform them of decisions that are important," said Steven Friedman of the Pretoria-based Institute for Democracy in South Africa.
Mbeki steps down as head of state in 2009, but can contest a third term as ANC president, a position coveted by Sexwale and the party's deputy leader Jacob Zuma, a leftist whom Mbeki fired as deputy head of state two years ago.
Party rules preclude formal campaigning, but in an interview last week, Mbeki said if the nomination process showed members wanted him "to continue to be a president of the ANC, you can't say no".
His possible contestation has drawn criticism from ratings agency Moody's which warned investors might interpret it as reluctance to relinquish power.
And as Mbeki faces mounting criticism for an authoritarian style, a TNS Research Surveys poll put his public support at 40percent - down from 66percent in April 2005.
Even old ghosts came back to haunt him last week, as former ANC lawmaker Andrew Feinstein launched a book alleging he oversaw a corrupt arms deal a decade ago. - Sapa-AFP