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UPDATE 2-ANC takes commanding lead in South Africa's election but support ebbs

ebbs@

* ANC in strong lead with 57 pct of the vote

Results in from 72 percent of voting districts

* ANC share of vote could fall to 55-59 percent -analysts (Updates tally, adds ANC, analyst comments)

By Mfuneko Toyana and Alexander Winning

PRETORIA, May 10 (Reuters) - The African National Congress (ANC) was headed toward victory in South Africa's election on Friday, partial results showed, though the party was on course for its worst performance in a national poll in its 25 years in government.

As of 0010 GMT, ballots in 72 percent of 22,925 voting districts had been counted. The tallies put the ANC on 57 percent in the parliamentary race, with the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) on 22 percent and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on 10 percent.

The former liberation party of Nelson Mandela has not won less than a 60 percent share of the vote since it swept to power in South Africa's first all-race election in 1994, marking the end of white minority rule.

Based on the latest results from the Electoral Commission, analysts predicted the ANC was set for a vote share of between 55 percent and 59 percent. A poor showing for the ANC would embolden opponents of President Cyril Ramaphosa and risk a potential challenge to his leadership, analysts have said.

"The ANC will be elected with a record low of 27 percent of the eligible population backing them, compared with 47 percent in 1999. This kind of dynamic is not a mandate nor an impetus to change," said Peter Attard Montalto, head of capital markets research at Intellidex.

"WILLING TO FORGIVE"

In the first national test at the ballot box for Ramaphosa, South Africans voted on Wednesday for a new parliament and nine provincial legislatures. They had expressed frustration at rampant corruption, high unemployment and racial inequalities that remain deeply entrenched.

Ramaphosa is trying to arrest a slide in support for Africa's oldest liberation movement, whose tenure in the last decade was punctuated by corruption scandals, a stagnant economy and high unemployment. "People have shown they are willing to forgive the ANC," said Ronald Lamola, a member of the ANC's top governing body. "We are looking at a clear mandate for our policies."

With promises to fight graft, improve public services and put people into jobs, Ramaphosa won an internal party leadership election in December 2017, narrowly defeating a faction allied with former head of state Jacob Zuma. Ramaphosa replaced the scandal-plagued Zuma as president of Africa's most advanced economy three months later.

But his efforts have been constrained by divisions within his own party, where some Zuma supporters still retain influence and oppose his agenda.

The ANC achieved its best parliamentary election result in 2004 under former President Thabo Mbeki, when it won more than 69 percent of the vote. But its support fell under Zuma, and it lost control of big cities like Johannesburg, the commercial capital, in local government elections in 2016.

Election officials said voting in general had progressed smoothly but that there had been isolated disruptions caused by bad weather, unscheduled power outages or community protests.

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana and Alexander Winning; writing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; editing by Phil Berlowitz, Bill Rigby and Leslie Adler)