Three contenders on Tuesday emerged to claim premier-elect Helen Zille's mayoral chain and become the new first citizen of Cape Town.

Zille's reign, which began in March 2006, ends today when she becomes a member of the Western Cape's Provincial Legislature. She is to be elected and sworn in as premier next Wednesday.

Zille was voted World Mayor of the Year for 2008, and won the provincial elections on the back of claims of clean government in Cape Town during her watch.

The apparent favourite to take over is Ian Neilson, the councillor from Table View. As mayoral committee (Mayco) member in charge of finance, sources said Neilson had the expertise required to run the city.

Neilson told the Cape Argus this morning: "I'm ready and able to do the job, I want to do the job and I hope my colleagues are going to consider me very favourably."

Neilson's main rival is Dan Plato, Mayco member in the mayor's office. The 48-year-old would say only that it was "for the caucus to decide".

A third possible candidate who has emerged with an outside chance is Grant Pascoe, from Westridge, Mitchells Plain. Pascoe, 38, is a former youth commissioner and played a key role in mobilising support in Mitchells Plain for the DA.

The party won two ward by-elections in December and last month, from the ANC and ID respectively, and secured a huge turn-out in support in last Tuesday's elections.

Unconfirmed information was that the DA received almost 100 000 votes in the area, up from around 19 000.

Sources described Pascoe as young, vocal and energetic, but possibly lacking top-level government experience.

Sources canvassed this morning said the DA caucus

and its coalition partners would insist on appointing "the best candidate for the job", in keeping with the council's goal of making Cape Town the best run city in the country.

The next municipal elections are in 2011. Sources said this could also be a factor in deciding Zille's successor.

Whoever wins will be mayor for about two years, during which time the DA hopes to govern both the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town.

The DA's election success at national and provincial level also opens up six vacancies in the city council. Four councillors - Masizole Mnqasela, Mzuvukile Figlan, Deborah Schafer and Pieter van Dalen - are set to become MPs in the national parliament, while Zille and

Cathlene Labuschagne are headed for the provincial legislature.

Zille would not comment on who would succeed her as mayor, except to say that it would be a fully democratic process.

Asked if the DA would look outside the city council for the best candidate, sources said this would not be politically possible, as the DA caucus would want to elect from within its own ranks.

Zille said deputy mayor Grant Haskin, of the ACDP, would take over for "few weeks", until a new mayor was elected.

A source said: "He has all the ability; he's level-headed. If they want to elect on pure ability, it's Neilson."