Indian-origin Rishi Sunak will become UK's next Prime Minister after rivals drop out of race

The former Treasury chief will be Britain’s first leader of color, and faces the task of stabilizing the party and country at a time of economic and political turbulence.
Rishi Sunak outside 10 Downing Street. (File Photo | AP)
Rishi Sunak outside 10 Downing Street. (File Photo | AP)

LONDON: Rishi Sunak has won the race to be leader of the Conservative Party and will become Britain’s next prime minister — the third in seven weeks, and the fifth Prime Minister since 2016.

Both his rivals in the race to become the next PM of the United Kingdom pulled out before a single vote was cast among members of the Conservative party. The other contendor, Penny Mordaunt, conceded and withdrew on Monday.

The former Treasury chief will be Britain’s first leader of color, and faces the task of stabilizing the party and country at a time of economic and political turbulence.

Sunak will also become the first Hindu to become Britain’s Prime Minister.

At the age of 42, he is also the youngest person to take the office in more than 200 years.

He is also the scond Prime Minister in King Charles III's reign.

As leader of the governing party, he will take over as prime minister from Liz Truss, who quit last week after 45 tumultuous days in office.

Sunak’s position strengthened after former leader Boris Johnson dropped out of the Conservative Party leadership contest on Sunday, ending a short-lived, high-profile attempt to return to the prime minister’s job he was ousted from little more than three months ago amid ethics scandals. Incidentally, on Saturday night, Sunak and Johnson had met but neither candidate had agreed to step aside.

Sunak had been the strong favorite as the governing Conservative Party sought stability at a time of immense economic challenges and after months of chaos that consumed the past two leaders.

Addressing members of his party behind closed doors after the announcement, Sunak reportedly received a rapturous reception.

Sunak was quick to pay tribute to Johnson, tweeting: "I truly hope he continues to contribute to public life at home and abroad."

Rishi Sunak leaves the Conservative Party campaign office in London, October 24, 2022. (Photo | AP)
Rishi Sunak leaves the Conservative Party campaign office in London, October 24, 2022. (Photo | AP)

Sunak's 'I told you so' moment

He has promised “integrity, professionalism and accountability” if he forms a government — a nod to the growing to desire for a leader who can tackle the country’s problems.

Sunak's victory marks a remarkable turnaround in political fortunes for the former finance minister, who lost out to outgoing Prime Minister Liz Truss just last month after his popularity among party colleagues did not translate in the wider Tory membership vote.

Earlier, high-profile Tory MPs switched allegiance from Johnson to Sunak, including former Home Secretary Priti Patel and cabinet ministers James Cleverly and Nadhim Zahawi.

Patel, the Indian-origin former minister who resigned from the Cabinet when Liz Truss was elected the Prime Minister last month, said the Tories must put political differences aside to give Sunak the best chance of succeeding as the new leader.

Sunak has faced down attacks from his opponents over his record as Chancellor until his resignation precipitated Johnson's exit.

He stood firm on his focus on inflation rather than any vote-winning tax cut promises to woo a traditionally low-tax favouring Conservative Party membership base. "I will get taxes down in this Parliament, but I'm going to do so responsibly. I don't cut taxes to win elections, I win elections to cut taxes," he declared.

Boris Johnson (L) and Rishi Sunak seen at the headquarters of Octopus Energy in London. (File Photo | AP)
Boris Johnson (L) and Rishi Sunak seen at the headquarters of Octopus Energy in London. (File Photo | AP)

Sunak won unopposed

Earlier in the day, the former chancellor was comfortably in the lead, having secured the public backing of over half (at least 200) of the 357 Tory MPs --- way above the 100 minimum required to make the shortlist.

In time for the 1400 local time Monday deadline, Sir Graham Brady, chair of the influential 1922 Committee of backbench MPs, announced in the Parliament complex that he had received only one nomination and therefore Sunak is the winner of the leadership contest.

Mordaunt had hoped to reach the threshold by the time nominations closed — but she backed out.

"Rishi Sunak is therefore elected as leader of the Conservative party," Brady said, as Mordaunt pledged her "full support" for Sunak.

That means Sunak is now the Conservative Party leader and will be asked by King Charles III to form a government. As head of state, it is the King's duty to appoint the prime minister who will lead His Majesty's Government.

He will become the prime minister in a handover of power from Truss later Monday or on Tuesday.

Sunak, who was Treasury chief from 2020 until this summer, quit in July in protest at Johnson’s leadership.

Wealthy politician

Fabulously rich from his pre-politics career in finance, Sunak has been mocked as out of touch with Britons struggling with decades-high inflation.

On the summer campaign trail, he wore expensive Prada loafers on a visit to a building site and faced accusations of "mansplaining" to Truss.

Video footage also emerged of a 21-year-old Sunak describing his mix of friends following his education at Winchester College, one of Britain's most exclusive private schools, and the University of Oxford.

"I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are, you know, working class," he said, before adding: "Well, not working class."

A details-oriented policy wonk with a background in economics, Sunak was an early backer of Brexit. He took over as chancellor of the exchequer in February 2020 -- a baptism of fire for the Tory rising star as the Covid pandemic erupted.

He was forced to craft an enormous economic support package at breakneck speed, which he now insists must be paid off with sound fiscal plans.

In India, Sunak has been better known through his wife, Akshata Murty. She is the daughter of Indian tycoon Narayana Murthy, the billionaire co-founder of the information technology group Infosys.

The Sunaks met while studying in California and they have two young daughters, Anoushka and Krishna, along with a photogenic dog.

UK's first Hindu PM

As a devout Hindu, Sunak swears his oath of allegiance as an MP on the Bhagavad Gita.

Sunak is a regular at the temple where he was born in Southampton and his daughters, are also rooted in the Indian culture.

He recently shared how Anoushka performed Kuchipudi with her classmates for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations at Westminster Abbey in June.

Dishy Rishi

The ex-minister's Instagram-friendly profile earned him the media nickname of "Dishy Rishi".

Until last year, he held a US Green Card -- which critics said suggested a lack of long-term loyalty to Britain.

And he has been dogged by difficult questions over Murty's failure until recently to pay UK taxes on her Infosys returns, which opinion polls suggest was viewed with deep disfavour by voters.

Sunak has also been damaged by the scandals of Johnson's tumultuous premiership.

He ended up with a police fine for breaching Covid rules, after joining a birthday gathering for the then-prime minister when he arrived early for a Downing Street meeting.

Johnson was also fined following an investigation into the "Partygate" affair.

Along with the controversy over his family fortune, the scandal sullied the reputation of the teetotaler Sunak, who admits only to a fondness for Coca-Cola and sugary confectioneries.

Waiter to wealth

Sunak represents the constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire, northern England -- a safe Conservative seat he took over in 2015 from former party leader and foreign secretary William Hague, who described him as "exceptional".

Theresa May gave him his first job in government in January 2018, making him a junior minister for local government, parks and troubled families.

Sunak's grandparents were from Punjab in northern India and emigrated to Britain from eastern Africa in the 1960s.

They arrived with "very little", Sunak told MPs in his maiden speech in 2015.

The son of Indian-origin general practitioner father Yashvir and pharmacist mother Usha, Sunak had spoken extensively of his migrant roots during the last campaign and also referenced making history by lighting Diwali diyas at 11 Downing Street as the first Indian-origin Chancellor of the Exchequer.

"Sixty years after my Naniji boarded a plane in East Africa, on a warm sunny evening in October, her great-grandaughters, my kids, played in the street outside our home, painted Rangoli on the doorstep, lit sparklers and diyas; had fun like so many other families on Diwali. Except the street was Downing Street, and the door was the door to No. 11," said Sunak, in his campaign video a few months ago.

Rishi Sunak, centre, speaks to people at an event in England. (File Photo | AP)
Rishi Sunak, centre, speaks to people at an event in England. (File Photo | AP)

His self-made credentials of working his way from waiting tables at a local Indian restaurant through a non-scholarship place at one of the UK's best schools, Winchester College, to a coveted Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Oxford University and then an MBA from Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar tick all the right boxes for the country's highest political office.

His private sector experience at Goldman Sachs and as a hedge fund manager seem to lend him the aura of someone who can be trusted in the face of harsh economic headwinds, further bolstered by his prescient warnings over Truss' unfunded tax cuts.

His political career began with winning a safe Tory seat of Richmond in Yorkshire in 2015 and from junior roles in the Treasury he was suddenly catapulted to the post of Chancellor of Exchequer when his former boss, Sajid Javid, resigned in February 2020.

He insists that both his own family's experience, and that of his mega-rich wife's, are a "very Conservative" story of hard work and aspiration.

He will soon learn if the party members can be won over the second time asking.

(With inputs from AP, AFP, and PTI)

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