London: Indian-origin and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak emerged as the strongest contender to succeed Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party and UK Prime Minister as he topped the ballot in the first round of voting.

Six candidates have proceeded to round two as newly appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi and former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt were eliminated after they failed to enlist the required backing of 30 Tory lawmakers, Xinhua reported.

Rishi Sunak, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, topped the first round with 88 votes, according to Graham Brady, chair of the Conservative Backbench 1922 Committee.

The other five survivors are International Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt (67 votes), Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (50 votes), former Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch (40 votes); Backbench lawmaker Tom Tugendhat (37 votes) and Attorney General Suella Braverman (32 votes).

The second ballot is scheduled on Thursday and the 1922 Committee aims to whittle down the field to two candidates in successive rounds of voting before the British parliamentarians break up for the summer recess on July 21.

The final two contenders will then go through a postal ballot of all the Conservative members, numbering around 200,000, over the summer and the winner will be announced on Sept.5, becoming the new Tory leader and the UK’s next Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson replaced Theresa May as prime minister in 2019 and announced on July 7 that he was stepping down as prime minister and leader of the UK Conservative Party.

A total of 58 ministers quit the government following an ethics scandal which ultimately forced the UK premier to resign. Johnson, 58, managed to remain in power for almost three years, despite allegations that he was too close to party donors, that he protected supporters from bullying and corruption allegations, and that he misled Parliament and was dishonest to the public about government office parties that broke pandemic lockdown rules.

Johnson would continue to remain in office until October as caretaker prime minister until a new Tory leader is elected.

Johnson, who won a landslide victory in the general elections in 2019, lost support after he was caught in a string of scandals, including the Party Gate Scandle and Pincher scandal involving his appointment of a politician accused of sexual misconduct.

Johnson, however, defended his record as prime minister in the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, as he touted his achievements of pulling off the Brexit deal, rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine and helping Ukraine.

“It’s perfectly true that I leave not at a time of my choosing,” he said, insisting “I’m also proud of the leadership that I have given and I will be leaving soon with my head held high,” read Johnson’s statement.

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