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New Conservative Party leader and incoming prime minister Boris Johnson leaves the Conservative party headquarters in central London on July 23, 2019. Boris Johnson won the race to become Britain's next prime minister on Tuesday, heading straight…

Boris Johnson was announced Tuesday as the winner of a weeks-long Conservative leadership race to replace Theresa May as party leader, paving the way for Britain’s monarch to invite him Wednesday to become the country’s new prime minister.

The ambitious former journalist and onetime London mayor has hungered his entire political life for the top job, but he won’t enjoy a honeymoon and his premiership is already balanced on a knife edge. If he gets things wrong he could beat Lord Rockingham, who lasted just 96 days at Downing Street in 1782, to emerge as Britain's shortest-lived prime minister.

FILE - British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond attends an interview during the G-7 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Chantilly, near Paris, France, July 18, 2019.

Rebels in his party, led by the outgoing chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, are making it clear that if he tries to take Britain out of the European Union without a deal having been agreed to with Brussels, they will vote with opposition parties to bring down the government to sabotage a so-called "hard Brexit." That would trigger a snap election the Conservatives would be unlikely to win.

The taste of things to come on his pledge to lead Britain out of the EU on October 31 "do or die" was delivered Monday on the eve of his leadership win. Alan Duncan quit as a Foreign Office minister to launch an attempt to force Johnson to face a vote of confidence in the House of Commons even before being invited by the queen to enter Downing Street as prime minister.

The Speaker of the House blocked Duncan’s effort.

Limited challengers

Only a handful of pro-EU Conservative lawmakers would be able to upset Johnson. Half-a-dozen have been in talks with Liberal Democrats to defect, according to party insiders. Up to a dozen ministers are expected to quit the cabinet before Johnson even becomes prime minister — although his loyalists say they are only falling on their swords to deny Johnson the opportunity to fire them.

The Conservatives are ruling as a minority government and are dependent on a quirky and easily-offended Northern Ireland Unionist party to give them a working majority of just two in the House of Commons. That could drop to just one, if a Conservative lawmaker is found guilty of committing sexual offenses in an upcoming trial.

With the opposition factions, aside from Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, opposed to Brexit, Johnson faces exactly the same parliamentary dilemma that undid the leadership of his predecessor, Theresa May, a deadlocked parliament.

FILE - Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, June 19, 2019.

May herself warned recently that her successor will face the same hard parliamentary arithmetic she did. But some argue he will face even tougher mathematics. She was opposed by hardline Brexiters in her party when trying to get the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU through the House of Commons. Johnson, the face of Brexit, has even less room for maneuvering — he has to deliver for his fellow Brexiters at the same time as finding a way to woo or neutralize pro-EU Conservative rebels, say analysts, and to do this with a wafer-thin and diminishing majority.

Jeremy Hunt, left, congratulates Boris Johnson after the announcement of the result in the ballot for the new Conservative party leader, in London, July 23, 2019.

The ever-upbeat Johnson appeared undaunted Tuesday in his speech marking the conclusion to a month-long leadership campaign in which both he and rival Jeremy Hunt, the current foreign secretary, crisscrossed Britain in their bid to win the support of Conservative members in a series of hustings as mail-balloting was underway. In the ballot, Johnson won 92,153 votes (66 percent) and Hunt won 46,656 votes (34 percent).

Johnson said it was an "extraordinary honor and privilege" to be elected leader, and he pledged to "energize the country."

"The campaign is over and the work begins," he added. In his trademark optimistic style Monday, Johnson promised to invigorate the country and help Britain to rediscover its "sense of mission." Throughout his leadership campaign he attacked "pessimists" talking Britain down and took aim at what he said was a sense of defeatism.

Brexit hurdle

But cheery rhetoric won't be enough to convince his party rebels — nor EU leaders and their negotiators. In the last few days, EU leaders have warned that they will not roll over to accommodate Johnson. They insist the withdrawal agreement they negotiated with Theresa May and which parliament has declined to endorse three times remains their final word.

FILE - European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, right, walks behind British Prime Minister Theresa May prior to addressing a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, Dec. 4, 2017.

“If the approach of the new prime minister is that they’re going to tear up the withdrawal agreement, then I think we’re in trouble,” warned Ireland’s foreign minister, Simon Coveney, just hours before Johnson celebrated his win. EU leaders opened back-channels with Johnson last week.

Johnson’s allies argue that he is inventive and that if anyone can find a way through the Brexit mess, he is the politician to do so. Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hardline Brexiter, welcomed Johnson’s victory Tuesday saying it was a "terrific result" and presented Britain with a "great opportunity" to "make Brexit a success."

Johnson’s foes acknowledge his star quality and say that he might light up a room, attract crowds and possesses a startling ability to recover from frequent gaffes and blunders, but he’s too tumultuous to occupy Downing Street — especially at a time Britain is facing its thorniest and potentially biggest policy challenge since the 1954 Suez crisis, which risked Britain's important ties with the U.S.

Time will tell who’s right. That is if he gets time.

Johnson’s other over-arching challenge is to overcome claims that he will be morally and politically an "illegitimate prime minister." He will be the first prime minister to enter Downing Street to head a minority government on the basis of just an internal party vote.

Daunting tasks

Britain’s main opposition party, Labor, has targeted his legitimacy. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, tweeted Tuesday: "Boris Johnson has won the support of fewer than 100,000 unrepresentative Conservative party members by promising tax cuts for the richest, presenting himself as the bankers' friend, and pushing for a damaging No Deal Brexit. But he hasn't won the support of our country."

Johnson will have to decide quickly his strategies when it comes to Brexit, and to an escalating and risk-filled diplomatic quarrel with Iran over the seizing by Tehran of a British-flagged oil tanker.

On Brexit, even before he won the leadership race, he was dealt a heavy blow with parliament voting to block him from suspending the legislature in order to try to prevent him from taking Britain out of the EU without a deal. And his options in the Gulf are equally as limited.

Few prime ministers have entered office with such immediate daunting tasks awaiting them. Brexit has created a deep constitutional malfunction, pitching a system built on parliamentary democracy against a mandate thrown up by a referendum, an expression of direct democracy at odds with traditional British politics.

If Johnson can square the Brexit circle, while dealing with a Gulf crisis that risks spiraling out of control, then he could go down in history, say his friends, as one of Britain’s finest prime ministers. He also would be the savior of a Conservative party facing the very real possibility of being wiped out, when it eventually faces the voters in a general election.

FILE - In this aerial view, fishing boats are seen on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village on May 20, 2019 in Senga, Malawi.

On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedar wood boat carrying its haul.

The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay.

But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll.

Hundreds of local traders gather each morning and afternoon at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi, Africa's third largest body of freshwater.

"We were hoping to catch a half-boat full or maybe a quarter-boat ... but I'm afraid the fish are dwindling in numbers," port manager Alfred Banda told AFP staring wearily at the small catch as it was dragged onto the sand.

"Before, we used to catch a full boat but now we are struggling," he said, adding that a full boat would earn a team of between six and 12 fishermen about $300.

Bordering three countries — Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique — Lake Malawi stretches across more than 29,000 square kilometers (11,200 square miles) with over 1,000 species of fish.

The 14,000 people living at Senga Bay depend on the lake for food and for their livelihood.

"Seven years ago there was lots more fish than today. In 2019 it is different, there's no fish in the water," trader Katrina Male, a 40-year-old mother of six, told AFP as she stalked the nets of newly brought in fish seeking the best deal.

"The fish nowadays are more expensive, because they are becoming scarce," Male said. "Some children have stopped going to school because their parents can't find the money."

'No alternative to fishing'

For both locals and climate experts, declining fish numbers reflect a combination of environmental change and overfishing that augurs ill for the future.

The World Bank ranks Malawi among the top 10 at-risk countries in Africa to climate change, with cyclones and floods among the major threats.

Senga community leader John White Said says increasing gale force winds and torrential rains have made it harder for fishermen on the lake.

"Our men can't catch fish because of wind which is much stronger than before," he said, adding that the rains are increasingly unpredictable on the lake.

"The rain before would not destroy houses and nature but now it comes with full power, destroying everything and that affects the water as well."

According to USAID, the number of rainfalls incidents in the aid-dependent country is likely to decrease — but each rainfall will be more intense, leading to droughts and floods.

The threat was highlighted in March when Malawi was hit by torrential rains from Cyclone Idai, killing 59 people. The storm also cut a swathe through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving nearly 1,000 dead.

On top of the environmental impact, the number of fishermen in Senga had doubled in the last 10 years due to the lack of other jobs, Said said.

"There is no alternative to fishing."

One of the few to benefit is 38-year-old boat owner Salim Jackson, who rents out his two vessels.
"I got into fishing 13 years ago because I had no other option, I never went to school. But it has brought me good money," he said.

'Unsustainable fishing practices'

By sunset, the balls of fishing net lay stretched out on the beach and both buyers and fishermen negotiate prices.

Traders take their purchases in buckets to makeshift reed tables to be dried, smoked, fried or boiled in preparation for the market.

"Declining fish catches are mainly due to unsustainable fishing practices," said Sosten Chiotha, a Malawian environmental science professor who works for the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) action group.

"Overfishing is a challenge in Lake Malawi [but] there are efforts on co-management and closed seasons to ensure that the fishery recovers."

Chiotha added that climate change was hitting Malawi with "increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the major ecosystems including lakes."

That leaves Malawi's agriculture-based economy sharply vulnerable to climatic events and entrenched poverty heightens pressure on the environment.

Wearing a black silk thawb robe and white kufi cap, Said stands tall on Senga beach, surveying the scene around him.

"I'm worried," he said. "In Malawi most people depend on fishing financially and as a cheap food source.
"The men have to cast their nets further and further away from the beach."

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