LONDON — A 42-year-old man of South Asian ancestry will square off against a 46-year-old woman who was once a Liberal Democrat to be the leader of Britain’s Conservative Party and the next prime minister, after a vote on Wednesday that captured the party’s rich diversity but also exposed its raw divisions.
Rishi Sunak, a former chancellor of the Exchequer, and Liz Truss, the current foreign secretary, emerged as the two finalists after five rounds of voting by Conservative lawmakers whittled the original field of 11 candidates. The two will now compete to succeed Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a vote of the party’s rank-and-file membership, with the results announced in early September.
Ms. Truss edged out Penny Mordaunt, a little-known middle-ranking minister who mounted an unexpectedly vigorous campaign, promoting herself as a breath of fresh air after three turbulent years under Mr. Johnson. Ms. Mordaunt was eliminated after winning 105 votes, while Ms. Truss had 113 and Mr. Sunak 137.
Mr. Johnson, for his part, made a jaunty, self-congratulatory last appearance at Prime Minister Questions in Parliament, taking credit for winning the largest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher in 1987, for getting Brexit done, and for steadfastly supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia.
“Hasta la vista, baby!” he said to lawmakers, borrowing a familiar sign-off from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who also famously said, “I’ll be back.”
How successfully Mr. Sunak and Mr. Truss escape Mr. Johnson’s shadow may determine their success in the next six weeks of campaigning. That may pose a bigger challenge to Ms. Truss, who sat alongside Mr. Johnson in the House of Commons on Wednesday and has stayed in his cabinet when several others quit.
Mr. Sunak will likely present himself as a responsible steward of the nation’s finances during a period of extreme stress, with surging inflation and the specter of recession. His victory caps a remarkable comeback from a few months ago, when he came under sharp criticism for the disclosure that his wife, Akshata Murty, the daughter of an Indian billionaire, did not pay taxes on all her income in Britain.
Ms. Truss will be viewed as the candidate of hard-line Brexiteers, pursuing aggressive negotiations with the European Union over trade in Northern Ireland.She will also likely play up her hard-power credentials as foreign secretary during the war in Ukraine.
At a recent televised debate, she was the only candidate to say she would be willing to sit down with President Vladimir V. Putin at a summit meeting of the Group of 20 industrial countries in November.
“It is very important that we have the voices of the free world facing down Vladimir Putin,” Ms. Truss said. “I was prepared to face down Sergey Lavrov,” she added, referring to the Russian foreign minister. She said she would call out Mr. Putin “in front of those very important swing countries like India and Indonesia.”