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Muslim candidate is the favorite in London mayoral race despite being called 'radical' by rival

Muslim candidate is the favorite in London mayoral race despite being called 'radical' by rival
London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan of the Labor Party and his wife, Saadiya Khan. (Hannah McKay / European Pressphoto Agency)

The son of a bus driver from Pakistan was favored to become London's first Muslim mayor as voters throughout Britain went to the polls Thursday.

Sadiq Khan, a human rights lawyer-turned-politician, often referenced his humble beginnings during his campaign, saying the city enabled his family to fulfill its potential and vowing to serve "all Londoners."

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The 45-year-old Khan, nevertheless, faced what many described as racism and fear-mongering during the campaign. His main rival, the Conservative Party's Zach Goldsmith, used words like "radical" and "dangerous" when referring to Khan.

Khan's camp derided such tactics, saying they were intended to divide and stoke fear among voters in one of the world's most multicultural cities, where more than 1 million residents are Muslim.

"I urge Londoners to choose hope over fear," Khan said in a speech before election day. "I urge Londoners to give me the chance to restore for all Londoners the opportunities our great city gave to me."

Khan surprised many, including several members of his Labor Party, by becoming the front-runner to succeed Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson.

Polls showed Khan several points ahead of Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire businessman, with official results expected to be announced Friday.

The mayoral election comes at a key time for London, which is in the grips of a housing crisis, as well as for Britain, which is gearing up to vote on its future membership in the European Union in June.

Elections were also taking place for 124 councils in England, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly, further testing the country's support for the Labor Party.

Aside from London, mayoral elections were taking place in other major cities, including Liverpool and Bristol.

In London, both candidates talked extensively about the myriad issues they would seek to tackle if they became mayor: the ever-soaring cost of buying or renting a home in the capital, rising public transport costs, the environment as well as plans to build a new runway at Heathrow Airport.

Goldsmith has been a committed environmentalist and also can point to his successful track record as a member of Parliament. He was easily reelected to his southwest London constituency during the 2015 general election.

Goldsmith has said the Labor candidate gave a "platform, oxygen and cover" to extremists by, for example, speaking alongside figures like London imam Suliman Gani, whom Prime Minister David Cameron has accused of supporting the Islamic State extremist group.

Khan first rose to prominence politically when he was appointed to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Cabinet in 2009.

If he wins, it will provide a much-needed boost to the Labor Party, which faltered badly in last year's general election and has become deeply divided under the direction of its left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet while Khan has felt under attack for being Muslim, his party has not done him any favors in recent weeks by becoming embroiled in its own anti-Semitism scandal.

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Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone said in an interview last week that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had supported Zionism before he "went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews."

Livingstone, a close ally of Corbyn's, has been suspended over the comments.

Another Labor lawmaker, Naz Shah, was also suspended last month after it emerged she had shared an image on social media that said Israel should be relocated to the U.S.

Corbyn has also been under pressure to explain his vocal support for pro-Palestinian groups.

Khan has tried to distance himself from Corbyn and the more left-wing members of the party, but Goldsmith has done about everything he could to remind voters that a vote for Khan cannot take place in isolation.

In a newspaper column in the Mail on Sunday, the Conservative candidate warned that electing a Labor mayor "would mean aggressive socialism entering Britain through the back door."

He added: "London's economy is too big and too important to be a testing ground for a four-year Khan-Corbyn experiment. Five-and-a-half million Londoners rely on it for their jobs and livelihoods."

Boyle is a special correspondent.

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