Updated: Wed, 20 Jul 2022 09:55 PM IST
Ex-UK finance minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday booked his place for the final leg of the race to succeed Boris Johnson as UK PM after extending his lead to 137 votes in the fifth and final round of voting. Sunak will now go head-to-head with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who came second with 113 votes, to take charge as Conservative Party leader and British Prime Minister.
Sunak won the fifth and final voting round of Tory MPs with a resounding 137 votes, while second-placed Truss won the support of 113 MPs. Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt was knocked out of the race after coming in third with 105 votes. Sunak and Truss are now set for their first head-on clash in a live televised debate scheduled on the BBC for Monday.
The 42-year-old British Indian former Chancellor, who has topped every voting round so far, added 19 votes to his Tuesday tally of 118 and comfortably crossed the 120 MPs mark seen as the threshold to confirm a place in the final showdown.
Sunak has led in all rounds of the voting among Conservative lawmakers, but it is Truss who seems to have gained the advantage so far among the 200,000 members of the governing party who will ultimately choose the winner.
Polls show Truss would beat Sunak in the party members' contest, opening up the chance that Conservatives elect a leader who was not the most popular choice for lawmakers.
Truss thanked some lawmakers outside parliament shortly after the votes were announced. "I am in it, to win it," she said. In a statement, she added, "As prime minister I would hit the ground running from day one, unite the party and govern in line with Conservative values."
Meanwhile, Sunak said that he will work day and night for the country. "Grateful that my colleagues have put their trust in me today. I will work night and day to deliver our message around the country", he tweeted.
The two finalists will now start weeks of hustings up and down the country before the party's membership. The vitriol between the candidates also poses the question of how well any new leader will be able to govern, with Johnson still popular with many in the party and country, and the party increasingly split between its various factions.
Johnson was forced to quit after he lost the support of his lawmakers following months of scandals, including breaches of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown rules.
Sunak, who helped steer the economy through the pandemic, might not find a forgiving crowd among party members with many blaming him for triggering Johnson's downfall with his resignation earlier this month. He has also faced criticism on everything from his record in government to his wife's wealth.
Truss might struggle at the hustings against Sunak, who is more relaxed in public appearances. On Sunday she admitted she might not be "the slickest presenter" but "when I say I'll do something, I do it".
(With Agencies Inputs)