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Rishi Sunak (centre) waves after winning the Conservative Party leadership contest at the Conservative party Headquarters in London, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022.  --Photo AP

Rishi Sunak, UK’s next PM, faces major economic problems

LONDON (AP) -- Former Treasury chief Rishi Sunak is set to become Britain’s first prime minister of color after being chosen Monday to lead a governing Conservative Party desperate for a safe pair of hands to guide the country through economic and political turbulence.
The challenges facing the U.K.’s third prime minister this year are enormous: He must try to shore up an economy sliding toward recession and reeling after his predecessor’s brief, disastrous experiment in libertarian economics, while also attempting to unite a demoralised and divided party that trails far behind the opposition in opinion polls.
In his first public statement, Sunak said “the United Kingdom is a great country, but there is no doubt we face a profound economic challenge.”
“We now need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring our party and our country together,” said Sunak, who at 42 is Britain’s youngest prime minister in 200 years.
Sunak will be the first British prime minister with South Asian roots and its first Hindu leader — a milestone for a country with an extensive colonial past, and one that is still contested.
Elected party leader on the major Hindu festival of Diwali, Sunak takes over from Liz Truss, who quit last week after 45 tumultuous days in office. His only remaining rival, Penny Mordaunt, conceded and withdrew after failing to reach the nomination threshold of 100 Conservative lawmakers needed to stay in the race.
Sunak will now be asked by King Charles III to form a government and becomes the prime minister in a handover of power from Truss on Tuesday.
Victory is vindication for Sunak, who lost out to Truss in the Conservative election to replace former Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the summer when party members chose her tax-cutting boosterism over his warnings that inflation must be tamed.
Truss conceded last week that she could not deliver on her plans but only after her attempts triggered market chaos and worsened inflation at a time when millions of Britons were already struggling with soaring borrowing costs and rising energy and food prices.
The party is now desperate for someone to right the ship after months of chaos — both during Truss’ short term and at the end of Johnson’s.
As finance minister, Sunak steered the economy through the coronavirus pandemic, winning praise for his financial support for laid-off workers and shuttered businesses.
He now faces the huge challenge of calming markets and trying to tame inflation at a time of weakened government finances, a worsening economic outlook and a wave of strikes. Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt, appointed by Truss 10 days ago, is due to make an emergency budget statement Oct. 31 if Sunak keeps him in the job.

(Latest Update October 26, 2022)

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