Thomas Mulcair finished the NDP leadership race in first place Saturday night, following a marathon day of balloting characterized by technical glitches rather than high political drama.

Five months after declaring himself as the candidate who could best build on the work of the late Jack Layton, Mulcair arrived in Toronto this week running a careful, well-organized front-runner's campaign.

And by the time the final ballots were counted, the MP from Montreal had delivered on his status as the man to beat.

"We said we would have fun," Mulcair said in French, when he approached the microphone to deliver his victory speech after a rousing round of cheers.

He thanked his wife, his family, his campaign team, "tireless" volunteers and supporters.

"We are celebrating today the victory for the members of the NDP who chose their own leader."

Mulcair won with 33,881 votes, taking 57.1 per cent of support after the fourth round of voting.

The 57-year-old becomes Canada's 44th Opposition leader, and he promised to take on the role without using the politics of division.

"Leadership comes in many forms. Our current government appeals to peoples' fears and rules by seeking division," said Mulcair, who did not directly mention Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

"We will unite progressives, unite our country, and together we will work towards a more just and better world."

Six other candidates arrived in Toronto vying for the party's top job, including former party president Brian Topp and dark-horse candidate Nathan Cullen, who finished second and third, respectively.

Topp, who was the only candidate without a seat in Parliament, had cast himself as the true heir to Layton, and often spoke of his final moments with the late leader on his deathbed last August.

Topp had been a key member of Layton's inner circle and has been credited with engineering the Quebec-based surge that led to the NDP's electoral breakthrough last May, when the party pushed their seat count to more than 100 for the first time.

Topp came into the convention enjoying the support of Layton's mother and that of former NDP leader Ed Broadbent.

Indeed, Topp's traditionalism versus Mulcair's modernizing push became the central debate in the party's seven-month long leadership campaign.

But ultimately, Mulcair's vision prevailed.

"In order to win the next election and have our first NDP federal government, our party much reach beyond its traditional base and unite all progressive forces under the NDP banner," he said, with Topp standing nearby.

"We won't do it by sacrificing the unity of our country."

Gauging the party's direction

Cullen, an MP from rural British Columbia, also faced the ire of party traditionalists for proposing that the NDP run joint candidates with the Liberals and Greens to prevent vote splitting in Conservative-held ridings.

Despite some disapproval, Cullen rode considerable momentum into the campaign's final days.

But his sprint to the finish fell short.

Former union negotiator and current Toronto MP Peggy Nash was eliminated after the second ballot and some of her supporters urged her to send her delegates to Topp.

Nash declined to do so.

Ottawa MP Paul Dewar suffered a disappointing fifth-place finish on the first ballot and removed himself from the contest.

But like Nash, he also declined to openly come out in favour of another candidate.

Two other hopefuls were eliminated earlier on Saturday, including 29-year-old Niki Ashton and Nova Scotia MP Martin Singh.

Singh, who had been accused of tacitly supporting Mulcair, was the only candidate to make an open endorsement after being eliminated.

Mulcair thanked them all during his victory speech and said that the party would unite with a goal to become Canada's next government.

"My very first words should be to thank and to congratulate Brian, Nathan, Peggy , Paul, Martin and Niki, for a race that provided us with innovative ideas that will allow us to keep the momentum going. Everyone, together."

In fact, if the contest was short on political drama, perhaps the blame could be directed toward the party's preferential balloting system, which allowed many of the party's 131,000 members to rank their picks ahead of time.

More than 60,000 votes were cast on the first ballot.

Still, the voting system did provide some intrigue as chronic computer glitches and delays were blamed on allegations of a cyber attack.

However, those reports were tempered by initial suggestions that the voting server simply crashed under high demand.

As a Quebec NDP MP and a former environment minister in the Liberal provincial government of Premier Jean Charest, Mulcair cultivated an image as a fiery opponent.

Under Charest, Mulcair famously resigned from his environment post after he refused to sign off on a condo development.