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Indian MPs vote for president, Mukherjee set to win

New Delhi (AFP): Indian national and state lawmakers voted on Thursday for a new president, with former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee seen as a certainty to take up the mainly ceremonial post.

Mukherjee, the candidate of the ruling Congress-led alliance, is a respected conciliator, and as head of state he may play a role in who governs India after the general election due in 2014.
The president oversees the formation of a new government when no party wins a clear majority, and most observers predict a close result at the next polls given the poor economic outlook and the Congress administration’s struggles.
The outcome of the vote will be announced Sunday, but Mukherjee, 76, has far more support than his rival, former parliamentary speaker P.A. Sangma, now a state legislator for a tribal constituency in the remote northeast.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken over the finance portfolio and Mukherjee’s departure may present an opportunity for the government to kick-start its stalled reform agenda.
Mukherjee, who cast his ballot while standing next to Singh, was set to claim 67 percent of the electoral college vote with Sangma on 30 percent, according to the CNN-IBN news channel.
“There is no permanent equation in India’s coalition politics and if Mukherjee becomes the president then his art of negotiation will be put to the test,” T.K. Tripathi, a leading political analyst and author, told AFP.
“He can be the kingmaker in this age of complex coalition politics.”
The new president will succeed Pratibha Patil, the first woman to hold the post, who took a low-profile approach to her five years in the job.
Some observers believe Mukherjee may take a more active role, using his political skills to foster compromise between warring parties who have often reduced parliament to a deadlock in recent sessions.
The job will be an abrupt change for a man who until last month was the finance minister at the heart of a government beset by policy paralysis, rebellious coalition partners and corruption scandals.
He has also endured heavy flak for India’s recent sharp fall in economic growth and an increasing sense of domestic and international pessimism about the country’s future after years of rapid development.
Amid such uncertainty, Congress faces a major challenge in keeping its coalition allies on board, and the party is already braced for a tough battle in the 2014 polls.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is supporting 64-year-old Sangma for president, is also unlikely to secure a clear win in national elections, meaning regional parties could hold the balance of power.
“Every party is scouting new partners to be able to form the government,” Sanjay Kumar, a political analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies think-tank in New Delhi, told AFP.
“In this turbulent scenario Mukherjee as a president will be able to steer the ship of the state. He is a trouble-shooter.”
Under the constitution, the prime minister holds most executive power, with the president chiefly employed to welcome foreign dignitaries and helping — if necessary — in the formation of governments.
The president can also return some bills to parliament for reconsideration.
Indian presidents are chosen by an electoral college comprising MPs from the federal parliament’s two houses and from the state legislatures.

Published Date: Thursday, July 19th, 2012 | 03:59 AM

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