London Elects Its First Muslim Mayor

Sadiq Khan becomes the first Muslim to lead a European Union capital.

07/05/2016 4:35 AM AEST | Updated 10/05/2016 5:22 AM AEST

Sadiq Khan won London's mayoral race Friday, making him the first Muslim to take the helm of a European Union capital.

Khan, a member of the center-left Labour Party, defeated Conservative Zac Goldsmith in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Boris Johnson, who is also a member of the Conservative Party.

"I am so proud that London has chosen hope over fear and unity over division,"  Khan said Friday after his victory.

The son of Pakistani immigrants, Khan worked as a human rights lawyer before becoming a politician. He was elected as a Member of Parliament in 2005, and later served in several government ministries. From 2009 to 2010, he served in Gordon Brown's cabinet as transport minister, the first Muslim to serve in this position.

England's Muslim population has doubled over the last decade, and as of 2011, 12.4 percent of London's population practiced Islam. Like many European cities, London has struggled with rising Islamophobia in recent years.

Racial tensions also creeped into the mayoral race. In April, the Muslim Association of Britain accused Goldsmith's campaign of sinking to "disturbing lows" by distributing pamphlets critics said were aimed at exploiting anti-Muslim sentiment. Prime Minister David Cameron, who is the leader of the Conservative Party, also drew criticism for accusing Khan of having ties to an imam who Cameron alleged supported the Islamic State. Goldsmith himself offered similar sentiments, accusing Khan of giving "platform, oxygen and cover to people who are extremists." 

Khan fired back at the comments, describing them as "horribly desperate stuff from a Tory campaign that is clearly losing." 

Goldsmith's tactics also drew criticism from members of his own party:

And Roger Evans, a Conservative deputy mayor of London, said he was worried about the lasting effects Goldsmith's campaign would have on the party.

"I'm concerned that the campaign we’ve run is going to leave a negative legacy which we in London are going to have to clear up long after the the people who ran Zac Goldsmith’s campaign have gone on their way," he said. "We're going to have to do quite a lot of work to re-establish trust with a lot of communities in London, that’s a shame and an opportunity missed." 

In a blog posted on HuffPost UK, Khan asked voters "to choose hope over fear." 

"London is the greatest city in the world, but we're at a crossroads," he wrote. "Londoners can vote for a candidate who will fight for ordinary citizens, or they can vote for four more years of the same. They can vote for hope and diversity, or they can vote for fear."

In addition to its historic mayoral race, Thursday's elections were seen as a major test for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected to the post in September. The New York Times reports:

Thursday’s council elections are one of the first major tests of Mr. Corbyn’s electoral appeal. But Labour faces a tough task in retaining the seats it currently holds. They were last contested four years ago, when the party was performing well. In some of its urban English strongholds, and in Wales, Labour is also now being challenged by the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns against immigration and for leaving the European Union.

Khan plans to step down from his post as a member of Parliament.

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