British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves Millbank Studios after a media interview in London, Britain, May 27, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]
Bitter divisions, surging inflation just some of the issues awaiting next PM
Whoever succeeds Boris Johnson as Britain's next prime minister will face the challenges of rebuilding the government's credibility, boosting the economy and healing the divisions within the ruling Conservative Party, analysts said.
Five candidates have made it through to the next round of voting by party MPs in the race to lead the Conservative Party, a post that comes with the job of prime minister, after the second round of voting finished on Thursday.
Former finance minister Rishi Sunak won the most votes in the latest round involving six candidates, as one contender was eliminated.
Sunak, with 101 votes, was followed by International Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt on 83 votes and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on 64 votes.
Also surviving are former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and backbench lawmaker Tom Tugendhat. Attorney General Suella Braverman was eliminated.
The 1922 Committee, comprising backbenchers, must whittle down the field to two candidates. The final two will go head to head in a postal ballot of Conservative Party members over the summer. The winner will be announced on Sept 5, becoming the new Tory leader and the UK's next premier.
The Tory leadership race was triggered after Johnson was forced to bow to the inevitable last week by an avalanche of resignations of cabinet ministers and junior government officials who took a stand against his scandal-plagued leadership.
He Yun, an associate professor in the School of Public Administration at Hunan University in Changsha, said that due to the lingering effects of Brexit, the pandemic, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the economy has become the biggest issue in the UK. That means the candidates' perceived ability to handle the economic difficulties will be a major consideration.
"Whoever succeeds Johnson will have a challenging task ahead," He said. "UK inflation is the highest among the G7 and the country's growth is forecast to be the slowest next year. It will take a competent leader to steer the UK to a brighter road ahead."
The British economy stopped growing in February and started shrinking in March. Inflation is expected to peak above 10 percent this year, even higher than in the United States, she said.
"The combination of factors is causing the worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, forcing lower-income households to choose between heating and eating," she said.
Kong Yuan, a researcher at the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Conservatives' performance in recent local elections was disappointing, signaling that voters had soured on Johnson.
When Johnson's parliamentary colleagues forced him to resign they were acting to save the image of the party, said Kong, adding that the new leader has the task of restoring the government's credibility.
Johnson, who won a landslide victory for the Tories in the general elections in 2019, lost support after he was embroiled in a string of scandals, including the "Partygate "controversy and the fallout from a decision to promote an MP accused of sexual misconduct.
Kong said that the unity of the UK itself is at risk due to the uncertainties caused by the Conservative government's handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol, an issue that affects trade with the European Union, and the longstanding support for independence in Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, has consistently pushed for a fresh referendum on independence. If a vote takes place next year, it would be the second poll to be held on the issue in nine years.
There is also divergence within the ruling party on issues such as taxation and how to balance the UK's economic interests with its security needs. Kong said Britain's position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict will not change significantly under a new prime minister. Britain has been a strong supporter of Ukraine.
Agencies and Xinhua contributed to this story.
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