Three women will likely face the lone remaining male candidate fighting to become the next leader of Britain's ruling Conservative Party following vote results announced late on Monday evening.
With Rishi Sunak close to securing enough votes to get him into the final round of two, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Trade Minister Penny Mordaunt and former local government minister Kemi Badenoch will compete for the remaining votes to go head-to-head with the former chancellor.
Their teams are mounting intense campaigns to win over the 358 Tory MPs voting today in a ballot that will reduce the candidates from five to four.
Despite running an effective campaign and performing well in the weekend’s two leadership debates, the remaining one- nation Tory, Tom Tugendhat, is likely to be eliminated, leaving just four candidates.
However, it is the 27 votes of right-winger Suella Braverman, eliminated on Thursday, that the three remaining women are chasing, with the majority expected to go to Ms Truss.
However, Ms Badenoch’s impressive surge in winning over MPs and her straight-talking during the debates could see her take up to eight of Ms Braverman’s votes to boost her current tally of 49.
Ms Truss will be anxious to sweep up the remaining 19 backers to increase her vote from 64 and draw level in second place with Ms Mordaunt on 83.
Ms Mordaunt, who had a major surge in the polls last week following her impressive campaign launch, has been the subject of a sustained media smear campaign, with leaked stories on the trade minister’s time in government.
Although she delivered a steady debating performance she did not shine as much as her supporters hoped, whereas Mr Sunak largely impressed, particularly on the economy.
If, as expected, Mr Tugendhat is knocked out following the vote announced at 8pm local time tonight then the backers he secured — possibly a few more than the 32 he scored in the Thursday’s round — will likely go to Ms Mordaunt.
She will also receive a substantial boost if the former army officer publicly backs the minister, who is also a Royal Navy reservist.
Technically that could get her to 115 votes — although MPs are not tied to people they back between rounds — which would be five short of the 120 needed to guarantee a spot in the final pair.
The fourth round of voting will take place on Tuesday. The field will shrink from four to three, with current fourth-placed Ms Badenoch being the potential loser. But this is by no means guaranteed if the right-wing, hard-Brexit faction of the party decides that she is a stronger candidate than Ms Truss, who failed to excel in the debates.
Following Tuesday’s vote, to be announced at 4pm local time, the field will be down to just three candidates. A leadership debate on Sky News planned for Tuesday evening was cancelled after Mr Sunak and Ms Truss indicated that they did not want to take part, the broadcaster said.
“Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative Party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party,” a statement from Sky read.
The fifth and final poll will take place on Wednesday afternoon.
The Conservatives' estimated 200,000 members will then vote for which of the pair they want as Britain’s next prime minister with the winner to be announced on 5 September.