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India to elect new president Thursday


New Delhi : India will elect a new president Thursday in what is a direct contest between ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pranab Mukherjee and opposition-backed Purno Sangma.

The polling will take place in the national and state capitals in which an electoral college consisting of members of parliament and the legislative assemblies will vote.

“All the necessary arrangements have been made for free and fair poll and security arrangements in and around Parliament House and particularly the venue of poll have been tightened,” returning officer and Rajya Sabha Secretary General V.K. Agnihotri told reporters here Wednesday.

The votes will be counted Sunday, three days before the five-year tenure of President Pratibha Patil ends.

The 13th Indian president is expected to enter Rashtrapati Bhavan by July 25.

Mukherjee, who had served in the UPA government as finance minister before entering the presidential fray, is the hot favourite to win the election.

He is expected to bag over 735,000 of the 10,97,000 votes from among 4,896 electors — 776 MPs and 4,120 assembly members.

Besides UPA members Congress, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, DMK and National Conference, Mukherjee has the support of the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lok Janshakti Party and YSR Congress Party, among others.

The Trinamool, which was undecided on its support for Mukherjee, changed its mind two days before the poll and announced it would vote for the UPA candidate with “a heavy heart” due to lack of options.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, ahead of the voting Thursday, hosted her UPA allies to lunch, in which Trinamool was represented by two MPs.

It was also attended by other UPA partners including the DMK, Rashtriya Lok Dal and Nationalist Congress Party, apart from supporting parties such as the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Bahujan Samaj Party.

YSR Congress Party, which had remained undecided, announced Wednesday that it had decided to support Mukherjee, apart from backing UPA candidate Hamid Ansari for the vice president’s post.

The party’s MP Mekapati Rajamohan Reddy announced the decision after a meeting chaired by party’s honorary president Y.S. Vijayalakshmi, claiming the decision was “above politics” as they hoped Mukherjee would do justice to the constitutional post.

With the Communist Party of India-Marxist and Forward Bloc too expressing support for Mukherjee and the Janata Dal-United and Shiv Sena breaking away from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to back him, wide acceptance of his candidature is evident.

Those likely to abstain from voting are the Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Telugu Desam Party and Telangana Rashtriya Samithi. These parties have around 36,000 votes.

Then there are around 32,000 votes with smaller parties who have no presence in parliament but have legislators in the states.

Sangma, a former Lok Sabha speaker, was a senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader before jumping into the presidential race and had to quit its membership.

He is currently a member of the Meghalaya assembly.

He is expected to bag a maximum of 313,000 votes, being supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, Shiromani Akali Dal and Asom Gana Parishad.

The churning witnessed in the country’s political space has left both the NDA and the Left Front divided. And, after anxious moments over the last three weeks over Trinamool’s indecisiveness, the UPA has emerged united.