South Africa’s new COPE party has chosen Methodist bishop Mvume Dandala as its presidential candidate for an April election, the Star newspaper reported on Friday.

A spokesman for COPE, formed by dissidents from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December, told Reuters a decision had not been made. COPE officials were not immediately available for comment on the report.

The April 22 election is expected to be the most closely contested since apartheid ended in 1994.

The ANC, in power since then, is widely seen winning the election and making party leader Jacob Zuma president, but it faces an unprecedented challenge from the Congress of the People (COPE) party.

The Star quoted an unnamed source who attended a COPE leadership meeting as saying Dandala, who played a role in the struggle against apartheid, was chosen because he had no political baggage.

If he is confirmed as COPE’s presidential candidate, Dandala could appeal to South Africans who have grown tired of corruption scandals in the ANC, as well as the party’s track record on widespread crime, poverty and an AIDS epidemic.

Church leaders have significant influence in Africa, where religious faith is strong.

Zuma is widely expected to become president despite a revived corruption scandal, fuelling political uncertainty that has worried investors



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