Londoners are going to the polls to decide who should run the British capital just months ahead of the 2012 Olympics there. Two of the country's most colorful politicians have gone head-to-head for a second time.
Around 5.8 million voters have the choice of seven candidates, though the real race is between Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson, and veteran Labour mayor Ken Livingstone, among the few politicians known across the country simply by their first names. Some call the race the Ken and Boris show.
Local elections are underway in 180 municipalities nationwide, in which Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives are expected to lose hundreds of seats. But the scenario appears to be different in London, where most polls put Johnson ahead of Livingstone by 12 percent.
Ken vs Boris
In his four years as mayor, Johnson, 47, known among other things for his unkempt look and passion for cycling, put a freeze on council tax, cut back the area of the anti-pollution congestion charge and introduced a popular bike-hire scheme. He also oversaw an upgrade of the London Underground and rail network ahead of the Olympics.
Critics say he's responsible for a widening gap between rich and poor in the city and rising Underground fares.
Two-term mayor Livingstone, 66, narrowly lost the 2008 election. Known as "Red Ken" by his enemies, he was the father of the congestion charge as well as the Oyster card, an electronic ticketing system that has largely supplanted paper tickets on the Underground. He's pledged to cut public transportation fares and introduce a major social housing program.
Critics say his plans would have to be funded by higher taxes.
If Johnson wins, his next step could be 10 Downing Street; he has made no secret of his aspirations to become prime minister. If Livingstone loses, it could mean the end of his career in politics.
Results are expected Friday.
ncy/pfd (Reuters, AP, dpa)