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Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair makes a speech during the 2016 NDP Federal Convention in Edmonton Alta, on Sunday April 10, 2016.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair still has a job today. But the question is: for how long?

Even though Mr. Mulcair failed a leadership test at his party's convention on the weekend, securing only 48-per-cent support, he vowed to stay on as leader until his replacement is chosen.

"The only thing that's important is that we leave here united," Mr. Mulcair, looking shocked but calm, said on stage after the vote.

"The person who replaces me must have the absolute and complete support of 100 per cent of the members of the NDP."

But that could take a while.

New Democrats may have to wait two years before they decide who will lead them into the next election against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, prompting some to question how Mr. Mulcair can hang on after such a resounding rejection from the rank and file.

The embattled leader may now have difficulty controlling his caucus members, who'll be looking for someone with a new vision and perhaps hold ambitions of their own.

The party's federal council is set to meet in May to discuss the next steps in a leadership race, which opens up the vote to all members of the party.

Usually that race takes place within a year, but delegates supported a motion on Sunday to extend that timeline to two years, if needed.

Ken Neumann, president of the United Steelworkers, said he put forward the extension motion because he doesn't think a year is enough time for the NDP to get organized.

"I've thought highly of Tom. I was of the view that this is not a time for a change," Mr. Neumann said.

The longer period gives potential leadership contenders more time to organize their campaigns. But a lengthy battle also hurts the party's coffers, since contenders suck up donations, and without a leader, the party has a difficult time adopting unified positions.

Niki Ashton, a Manitoba MP who is a rumoured leadership candidate, said there is a "a lot to digest" after Mr. Mulcair's loss.

When asked if she will run, Ms. Ashton said: "I feel very strongly about the work we have to do in Parliament, and as a member of Parliament, obviously I'm very committed to being a key part of that work."

Other rumoured candidates include B.C. MPs Nathan Cullen and Peter Julian, as well as former Halifax MP Megan Leslie, Quebec's Alexandre Boulerice and Ontario MP Charlie Angus.

The party may also want to lure an outsider such as filmmaker Avi Lewis, the man behind the Leap Manifesto, a far-reaching proposal to reject new energy projects – although, so far, Mr. Lewis has said he's not interested.

As for Mr. Mulcair, he said Sunday he awaits the time when he can relate to Mr. Lewis's father, former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, who is out of politics.

"I'm really looking forward to greeting the new leader of the NDP on stage in a year or maybe a year in a bit, and entering what [Lewis] was jokingly calling his dotage, and being the person who's called upon to attend these events and congratulating each and every one of you for your hard work," Mr. Mulcair said.