London: UK home secretary Theresa May is ahead in the race to be the next British prime minister, as speculation grows that it may be an all-female contest pitting her against the energy minister and prominent Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom.

May has 86 endorsements from fellow Tory lawmakers in her bid to take the helm of the party and the country, well ahead of her challengers, according to a tally on the Conservative Home website late Friday. Work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb has 21, justice secretary Michael Gove and Leadsom each have 17, and former defense secretary Liam Fox has seven.

The majority of the party’s 330 members of Parliament have yet to commit themselves publicly. Starting on Tuesday, they’ll vote in secret ballots to whittle the five candidates down to a shortlist of two. Then, the party’s approximately 150,000-strong nationwide membership will make the final choice in a postal ballot, with the result expected by 9 September.

Whoever wins will face some of the most difficult decisions for any UK leader since World War II. Nine days after Britain voted to leave the European Union, in a shocking break with a half-century of postwar alignment, the country remains in a state of political limbo with the main opposition Labour Party also engulfed by a leadership crisis.

Among the Tories, Gove may find his desertion of fellow leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson has backfired, costing him the support of many lawmakers who feel he can no longer be trusted. Fox is rated a long-shot while Crabb, who like May campaigned to stay in the EU before the referendum, is said to be having difficulty finding substantial support.

‘Massive chance’

May, the bookmakers’ favourite, is seen as a steady hand. She’s ruled out any prospect of going back on Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, opening her leadership bid on Thursday by declaring that “Brexit means Brexit."

Leadsom, an ex-financier who has worked for Barclays Plc and Invesco Perpetual, played a prominent role in the “Leave" campaign. Should she make it to the shortlist along with May, Britain would be guaranteed its first female prime minister since Margaret Thatcher.

“I genuinely believe that our future is better off outside of the EU," Leadsom said in an interview with LBC radio after announcing her bid. “It’s a massive chance to strengthen our economy and sort out the issues around free movement."

The candidates will take to the airwaves over the weekend to promote their campaigns. May and Crabb will appear on ITV Television’s “Peston on Sunday," while Leadsom and Gove are due on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show."

Labour also faces a weekend of post-Brexit manoeuvres. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is clinging to his post after losing a vote of no confidence among lawmakers and suffering a mass walkout by his frontbench team. Corbyn is blamed by many in the party for fighting a lackluster campaign to stay in the EU. He’s so far resisted pressure from senior officials to step down, but may face a formal leadership challenge in the coming days -- most likely from his former business spokeswoman, Angela Eagle.

Meanwhile, an anti-Brexit march is set to be held in London on Saturday. Its organizers have called for Britain to “take its finger off the self-destruct button." Bloomberg

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