, LONDON, United Kingdom, May 4 – Opposition Labour lawmaker Sadiq Khan is on course to become the new mayor of London and the first Muslim leader of an EU capital, final opinion polls suggested Wednesday, despite attempts to link him to extremists.
The son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver has a 12- or 14-point lead over Zac Goldsmith, his multimillionaire rival from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party, according to two polls published ahead of Thursday’s vote.
In a final campaign stop in a street market in a multi-cultural district of south London, Khan joked with stallholders and their customers and posed in the spring sunshine for selfie pictures.
But he condemned the divisive nature of the campaign that has seen him repeatedly forced to defend himself against claims that he has failed to condemn Muslim extremists.
“I am disappointed that the Conservatives and Zac Goldsmith have decided to have a negative, divisive and increasingly desperate campaign,” he told AFP.
“Hopefully if I win, I’ll be the mayor that unites our city again, that brings communities together.”
Tensions over the campaign have been exacerbated by a simmering row over anti-Semitism in the Labour party, which exploded last week with the suspension of a lawmaker and former London mayor Ken Livingstone.
In angry clashes in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Cameron accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of failing to tackle the problem and attacked both him and Khan for being sympathetic to Islamic extremists.
Reviving previous comments by Corbyn referring to the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement and Lebanon’s powerful Shiite militia Hezbollah as “friends”, Cameron said Labour was a “party that puts extremists over working people”.
Corbyn denied he approved of those groups and hit back by accusing the Conservatives of “systematically smearing” Khan, and urging Cameron to tackle racism in his own party, which he suggested was “endemic”.
Asked about Cameron’s comments by a market customer, Khan joked: “He’s obsessed with me! The best way to get even is to win”.
– ‘Uncle Tom’ row –
Khan has urged Corbyn to take more action to tackle anti-Semitism in the Labour party, while trying to distance himself from a row that threatens not only his prospects but Labour’s showing in other regional elections Thursday.
But Khan was embroiled in fresh controversy when footage emerged of a 2009 interview in which he said government attempts to engage the Muslim community could not just focus on “Uncle Toms”.