Former Indian minister of finance Pranab Mukherjee was elected Indian president yesterday after votes from national and state lawmakers were counted in the race for the mainly ceremonial post.
Some analysts believe Mukherjee, a veteran from the ruling Congress party, may take a more active approach to the job than his predecessors as India struggles with parliamentary deadlock and slowing economic growth.
The PTI news agency announced Mukherjee, 76, as the winner after he collected more than half of the electoral college votes with more than three-fourths of the ballots counted yesterday. He easily beat his only rival P.A. Sangma, 64, a former lower house speaker who was backed by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
India’s president, who lives in a 340-room palace in New Delhi built for the British Viceroy during colonial rule, is chosen by legislators from the two houses of parliament and state assemblies.
Under the constitution, the prime minister wields most of the executive power, but the president can play a guiding role in the process of forming governments.
The next general election, due to be held in 2014, is predicted to be close, leading to a period of complex horse-trading between numerous national and regional parties trying to form a stable coalition government.
“It’s in this turbulent scenario, Mukherjee as a president will be able to steer the ship of the state. He’s a troubleshooter,” said Sanjay Kumar, an analyst at India’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
Mukherjee, a canny operator known for his negotiating skills, may also try to use the presidential position to foster a behind-the-scenes deal between warring parties who have reduced parliament to a stalemate in recent sessions.
Despite the president being a neutral figure above party politics, his success yesterday was a welcome victory for the embattled Congress party, which has been beset by a string of graft scandals and poor economic data.
Mukherjee commands respect across party lines, but his performance as finance minister was criticized for his failure to push through reforms to further liberalize India’s economy.
His exit from the ministry has raised investors’ hopes that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has taken over the finance portfolio, could embark on long-awaited moves such as opening up the giant retail sector to foreign investment.
Mukherjee will be formally sworn in on Wednesday, taking over for a five-year term from Pratibha Patil, India’s first woman president.