By Jethro Mullen and Robyn Curnow
JOHANNESBURG (CNN) -- Voting began Wednesday in South Africa in the country's first elections since the death of Nelson Mandela.
The party he once led, the governing African National Congress, is expected to hold onto power. But it may suffer a decline in its substantial majority amid growing discontent, particularly among urban voters.
The ANC, which has governed for the past 20 years, still enjoys widespread support as the party that represents the defeat of the apartheid system and the beginning of democracy in South Africa.
But with President Jacob Zuma dogged by scandals, economic difficulties and concerns over reports of rising corruption, the ANC could see its share of the vote fall from the 65.9% it won in the 2009 elections.
"Many are hoping that the ANC will get a scare in these elections and begin to reflect on some of its failures," wrote South African political commentator Justice Malala in an opinion article for CNN.
If the party's share of the vote drops to 63% or below, Malala said, it will mean that "the party is experiencing its second significant decline in two successive elections."
Scandal over home
At the forefront of the issues that have blighted Zuma's presidency is a scandal over his rural homestead in Nkandla, in the province of KwaZulu Natal. The state watchdog has alleged that more than $20 million of public money was misused in improvements to the sprawling complex. Zuma has denied any wrongdoing.
But among Zuma's support base in areas like KwaZulu Natal, many people remain loyal.
"Frankly they do not see a problem with him having let his home in Nkandla be refurbished at such a high price. In fact they see it as part of the perks of being a ruler," said Achille Mbembe, a professor at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research in Johannesburg.
Voting began Wednesday at 7 a.m at more than 22,000 polling stations across the country and will finish at 9 p.m., the South African Press Association (SAPA) reported.
A total of 25 million registered voters are expected to participate in electing 400 members of Parliament, as well as representatives in new legislatures in South Africa's nine provinces, SAPA said.
Past and future
The ANC is facing its biggest challenges in cities, where analysts say discontent is on the rise, notably among young people, over a lack of quality education and jobs.
"Increasingly, South Africa feels like a country caught between its past and its future," Malala said.
The situation is compounded by the fact that many disillusioned young people aren't registered to vote.
Opposition leaders like Mmuse Maimane of the Democratic Alliance are seeking to connect with younger voters.
"It's key that they establish their own future, their new freedom, their new south Africa," he said ahead of the election.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a young party formed a few months ago by expelled former ANC Youth leader Julius Malema, is also trying to loosen the governing party's grip on power.
The Democratic Alliance is quickly adapting itself from its reputation as a "white party," and the EFF is fast becoming a player on the national stage, Malala said, but "both parties are only likely to give the ANC a real run for its money in the 2019 and 2024 elections."
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