London: Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended his lead in the race to replace Boris Johnson as the Conservative Party leader and British Prime Minister, as he added 14 more votes to his tally in the latest round of voting by Tory members of Parliament.
Sunak, 42, has consistently topped the shortlist since voting began last week and on Monday he bagged 115 votes in the third round, which leaves only four candidates in the race.
Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt is holding on to second place with 82 votes followed by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss with 71 votes and former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch at 58 votes. Tom Tugendhat, Tory backbencher and House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, dropped his tally from the previous 32 to 31 votes and was knocked out of the contest with the least votes.
The fourth round of voting will take place on Tuesday, at the end of which another candidate with the least votes will be eliminated to edge towards a final shortlist of just two candidates by Thursday.
The battle remains poised for the all-important second spot, with all eyes on the candidate who will go head to head with Sunak in the final leg of the race as the former finance minister's lead seems to be crystalising.
While Sunak picked up 14 more votes from the previous round of 101, Mordaunt dropped one from 83 in the second voting round last week. Truss has improved her tally from 64 and Badenoch is up from 49 in the last round.
The magic number is seen as 120, with the candidate receiving the backing of at least 120 of his or her Conservative Party colleagues guaranteed a spot in the final shortlist of two candidates to compete for the Tory membership votes.
The last few rounds of voting are being held this week as a third live television debate, scheduled to be hosted by 'Sky News' on Tuesday evening, was cancelled after the channel said both Sunak and Truss had declined to take part.
It is believed the decision is influenced by the clashes between the two candidates over disagreements on tax and economic measures as former Cabinet colleagues in the Johnson led government.
The tension played out live on air as Truss clashed with Sunak repeatedly during an 'ITV' debate on Sunday, sparking concerns of damaging Tory infighting. A snap poll after the debate put Sunak in the lead but Truss was trailing in last place.
According to the BBC, the foreign minister wants to focus on hustings between Tory MPs, who hold the current voting power, and Sunak's camp has indicated that he would be open to more debates if he qualifies for the final two.
The cancellation of Tuesday's debate comes amid concerns in the Tory party about the harsh tone of the campaign.
After the next few rounds of voting on Tuesday and Wednesday to further whittle down the shortlist further, the final two candidates in the fray will be known by Thursday.
The duo will then hold hustings in different parts of the UK to try and win over the Conservative Party's membership of around 160,000 eligible voters to cast postal ballots in their favour. The winner of that ballot will go on to be elected the new Tory leader and take over from caretaker Boris Johnson as the new British Prime Minister by September 5.