After a bitter and bruising race, the Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan won London’s mayoral race early today and made history as the first Muslim elected to lead a major Western capital city.
According to Washington Post, the outcome is likely to resonate far beyond a change in London’s City Hall, challenging the rise of anti-Islam political rhetoric in the West and giving another powerful voice to Britain’s large Pakistani community just when the country is facing its own identity crisis.
The foreign media reports that at a time when Islam is seen by many in the West as politically toxic, Khan embraced it to winning effect.
Eleven years ago, Pakistanis in Britain faced suspicions and huge public backlash after coordinated terrorist bombings of the London transit system killed 52 people and wounded more than 700.
Yet Khan has never tried to hide his faith. He memorably tweeted to his main rival, the Conservative’s Party’s Zac Goldsmith, at one point: “Hey @ZacGoldsmith. There’s no need to keep pointing at me & shouting ‘he’s a Muslim.’ I put it on my own leaflets.”
He told The Washington Post on the campaign trail earlier this week: “I want to be the British Muslim that defeats the extremists, defeats the radicals. I’ve got a plan of how we can keep London safe.”
Election officials said Khan defeated Goldsmith by more than 300,000 votes, after first- and second-preference votes were allocated, the Associated Press reported. The result came early Saturday, more than 24 hours after polls closed. Khan will replace Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson.
The mayoral election took place just six weeks before Britons vote on whether to stay in the European Union — a question that has raised sharp political divisions on issues that include control over immigration policies.
London’s mayor wields less direct power than big-city counterparts in the United States and elsewhere. But the position has gained a higher profile as a soapbox for various issues — even international affairs — under previous mayors such as the left-leaning Ken Livingstone and Johnson
The two front-runners came from strikingly different backgrounds.
Khan, 45, the son of a Pakistani bus driver and seamstress, trained as a lawyer before becoming a Labour Party member of Parliament for Tooting, a south London constituency. He slept in a bunk bed at his parents’ home until he was 24.
Goldsmith, 41, is a longtime environmentalist and son of a billionaire financier. He is currently a lawmaker from Richmond in south London. His sister is Jemima Khan, whose ¬ex-husband, Imran Khan, is a former cricket star from Pakistan who has since turned to politics in that country.
Jemima Khan appeared to criticize the campaign of her brother, who repeatedly accused Sadiq Khan of giving “oxygen and cover” to Islamic extremists.
“Sad that Zac’s campaign did not reflect who I know him to be — an eco friendly, independent-minded politician with integrity,” she tweeted, even as she also applauded Sadiq Khan’s expected win as “a great example to young Muslims.”
The mayoral race was one of a number of local and regional elections across Britain in what were dubbed the “Super Thursday” contests.
Outside London, the Labour Party suffered losses in various parts of the country, suggesting it has a steep hill to climb to win the next general election in 2020.
This week’s votes marked the first big set of elections since Jeremy Corbyn, a politician on Labour’s far left, won his party’s leadership contest last fall with massive grass-roots support.