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British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former finance minister Rishi Sunak.DANIEL LEAL/AFP/Getty Images

The race to lead Britain’s Conservative Party has been narrowed to two candidates – and the country is headed for either its third female prime minister or its first leader from an ethnic minority.

Former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss finished first and second on Wednesday in the fifth round of voting by Conservative members of Parliament. The party’s 175,000 members will now choose the winner through mail-in balloting that begins next month and ends on Sept. 2. The result will be announced around noon on Sept. 5, and whoever wins will take over as prime minister from outgoing leader Boris Johnson.

The race started last week with eight MPs standing as candidates. Mr. Sunak led each round of voting and took 137 votes on Wednesday. Ms. Truss emerged from third place to edge out Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt by eight votes on the final ballot, 113 to 105.

The campaigning now shifts to the membership, where opinion polls show Mr. Sunak, 42, is less popular than Ms. Truss, who is 46.

She is seen as a loyal supporter of Mr. Johnson, who remains well liked among much of the membership. Mr. Sunak is viewed by many Tories as someone who backstabbed the Prime Minister and helped orchestrate his ouster earlier this month.

Mr. Sunak’s background – which includes degrees from Oxford University and Stanford University as well as a career at Goldman Sachs and at a hedge fund – could also be a hard sell for Tory members in working-class parts of the country. Also, his wife is the daughter of an Indian billionaire and she has faced criticism for not claiming British residency in order to avoid paying taxes.

Although Ms. Truss did not support Brexit, she is considered more right-wing than Mr. Sunak, which will also appeal to many Tory members.

“I think Liz Truss will be our next Prime Minister,” Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, said on Twitter after Wednesday’s results were announced. “Happy to be wrong but all data I’ve seen and run point in that direction. Sunak needs to run the campaign of his life.”

Both candidates have already taken shots at each other and some Tories fear the race could turn nasty. There have already been allegations that Mr. Sunak’s MP supporters leaked information to discredit Ms. Mordaunt, and that they engaged in tactical voting to ensure a runoff against Ms. Truss, whom Mr. Sunak believes he can beat.

During a recent televised debate, Mr. Sunak labelled Ms. Truss’s economic policies “socialism” and mocked her for not backing Brexit. For her part, Ms. Truss has slammed Mr. Sunak for having no economic growth strategy and highlighted his elite upbringing.

She and other leadership candidates have taken particular aim at Mr. Sunak’s decision to raise taxes as chancellor.

“The fact is that raising taxes at this moment will choke off economic growth,” Ms. Truss told Mr. Sunak during a recent televised debate. She added: “If he has a plan for growth, why haven’t we seen it over the past two years?”

Mr. Sunak has defended the tax hikes by saying that tackling inflation was his prime concern.

“I’d love to stand here and say, look, I’ll cut this tax, that tax and another tax and it will all be okay. But you know what? It won’t,” he said during the debate. Referring to Ms. Truss’s pledge to immediately cut taxes by £30-billion, he added: “This something-for-nothing economics isn’t Conservative. It’s socialism.”

Whatever the result in September, both Mr. Sunak and Ms. Truss will make history if they become prime minister.

Mr. Sunak’s parents came to Britain from East Africa and his family’s roots are in India. He would be Britain’s first racialized prime minister. Ms. Truss would be the third woman to lead the party and the country, after Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

As MPs began voting on Wednesday, Mr. Johnson offered some advice for his successor. “Number one: stay close to the Americans, stick up for the Ukrainians, stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere,” he told the House of Commons. “Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest, which it is.”

And in a swipe at those who forced him out because of what they felt was growing unpopularity, Mr. Johnson added: “Focus on the road ahead but always remember to check the rear-view mirror. And remember, above all, it’s not Twitter that counts, it’s the people that sent us here.”

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