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5 things to know about Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first Asian prime minister

5 things to know about Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first Asian prime minister

Britain's newly appointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak poses outside the door to 10 Downing Street in central London, on Oct 25, 2022, after delivering his first speech as prime minister. (Photo: AFP/ Daniel Leal)

SINGAPORE: The United Kingdom’s 57th prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was formally appointed by King Charles III on Tuesday (Oct 25). 

He has yet to knuckle down to the top job - which will involve addressing a looming economic crisis, to name one of a multitude of issues facing the UK. 

But already, the history-making nature of Sunak's ascent has drawn much attention.

He is Britain’s first Asian prime minister and the first of Hindu faith to hold that office. 

He is also the richest - richer than the king himself. 

Here's a guide to understanding who Rishi Sunak is.

SON OF INDIAN IMMIGRANTS 

Sunak’s rise has been hailed as the UK’s “Barack Obama moment”. It marks a slew of firsts and historical milestones for the kingdom.

He is the first British prime minister of Indian origin and of Hindu faith.

Sunak's grandparents migrated from Punjab, in what was then known as British India, to east Africa, where his parents were born.

Their families then migrated in turn to the UK in the 1960s. 

Sunak's father worked as a doctor and his mother ran her own pharmacy. 

He was born in 1980 as the first of three children in Southampton in southern England. 

His elevation on the date of Deepavali, a major Hindu festival, delighted many Indians, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who called him a “living bridge” between the two countries.

As a new Member of Parliament in 2015, he took his oath on the Hindu holy book the Bhagavad Gita.  

A red thread around the wrist, traditionally worn by Hindus for good luck and protection, was spotted on Sunak when he posed on the steps of Downing Street on Tuesday, after his first address to the nation.

At 42 years old, he is also the youngest British prime minister in more than 200 years. That record was previously held by David Cameron, who was 43 when he took office in 2010. 

Fun fact: Britain’s youngest-ever prime minister was William Pitt the Younger, who was 24 when he took on the role in 1783. 

RICHER THAN THE KING 

Together, Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy are estimated to be worth around £730m - about double the personal wealth of King Charles. 

Before entering politics, Sunak worked for investment bank Goldman Sachs and was a partner at two hedge funds. 

But most of the couple’s wealth comes from Murthy, the daughter of Indian billionaire Narayana Murthy who founded software company Infosys. 

Ms Murthy’s 0.9 per cent stake in the company is estimated to be worth about £700m. 

The Sunaks also reportedly own four properties valued at more than £15 million, including a penthouse apartment in California. 

CONTROVERSIES

The couple’s wealth has hurt Sunak politically in the past, with critics saying he could not possibly understand the pain that inflation is causing to the man on the street.  

He has also faced public anger over his wife’s tax status. As an Indian citizen, Ms Murthy is eligible for so-called “non-domiciled” status in Britain, which allowed her to avoid paying UK taxes on the millions she earned abroad. 

She eventually agreed to start paying extra taxes to relieve pressure on Sunak, saying she did not want this to be “a distraction for my husband or to affect my family”. 

Sunak himself was at the centre of controversy when he was fined for breaking COVID-19 lockdown rules in June 2020, when he attended a birthday gathering for then-prime minister Boris Johnson. 

Sunak, who was finance minister then, apologised but rejected calls to quit. 

RECORD RISE

Sunak’s rise - from MP to prime minister in seven years - is also a record-breaking one, in modern times. 

Cameron did the same in nine years. The 18th-century leader Pitt the Younger holds the overall record of two years.

Sunak entered parliament in 2015 as MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, and served as a junior minister in former prime minister Theresa May's government.

He was then made chief secretary to the Treasury by her successor Johnson, before being promoted to chancellor in February 2020. 

Notwithstanding the flouting of lockdown curbs to party with his boss at the time Johnson, it was also during the pandemic when Sunak's popularity soared, as he unveiled support measures worth £350 billion to help Britons weather the storm.

BIG ON COKE AND THE FORCE

Sunak is a self-confessed "huge Star Wars fan" with a sizeable collection of lightsabers. 

In 2016, he reportedly told a group of schoolchildren that he originally wanted to be a Jedi Knight when he grew up.

At a 2019 movie screening of The Rise of Skywalker, he tweeted a photo of himself and who he called his "Jedi Master" - then-superior and chancellor predecessor Sajid Javid.

Sunak has dubbed himself “a Coca-Cola addict” and was famously caught on camera trying to pay for a can of the fizzy drink by scanning his bank card on a barcode reader.

He later admitted, according to The Guardian, that someone had to teach him how to use the contactless card.

Source: CNA/vc(jo)

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