Pranab Mukherjee yesterday was elected president of India, the world’s most populous democracy, capping a four-decade career in politics and delivering the ruling party a success after a period of policy setbacks.
Mukherjee, 76, defeated Purno A. Sangma, 64, a former speaker of the lower house of parliament, said V. Narayanasamy, a minister in the prime minister’s office. He will be sworn in July 25 for the largely ceremonial post. Mukherjee won more than double the number of votes cast for his opponent in an electoral college of federal and state legislators, CNN-IBN TV said.
Mukherjee, who served as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s finance minister from 2009 until last month, secured the support of coalition allies, including the belated backing of the Trinamool Congress, a regional party whose rebellions have stalled policy making. Sangma was the candidate of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Congress party-led government must now switch its attention to restoring investor confidence in its economic management with “big ticket” policy initiatives, said Arun Kejriwal, director of Kejriwal Research & Investment Services Pvt. in Mumbai. “After this, what? That’s what the market wants to know,” he said.
Singh’s senior economic adviser, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, this month said he expected the administration to “very soon” revisit its suspended push to allow foreign supermarket chains to open stores in India as part of efforts to improve sentiment after economic growth slumped to a nine-year low under Mukherjee’s guidance.
Ahluwalia said the government had set up monitoring mechanisms to ensure faster implementation of road, port and power projects. The measures will help boost economic growth and increase foreign investment flows, he said.
The president oversees the creation of a government in the event of a hung parliament and can in rare circumstances send some bills back to lawmakers for reconsideration. The next general election is due by early 2014.
Mukherjee had been the Congress party’s troubleshooter in managing conflicts with allies including Mamata Banerjee, leader of Trinamool Congress, who has repeatedly blocked Singh’s attempts to open up the economy to more foreign investment.
The former finance chief, who has headed as many as two dozen ministerial panels on issues ranging from food production to fuel prices, was rarely out of the news during Singh’s second term. Mukherjee was often called upon to appease government allies angered by proposed policy changes, not always emerging victorious.
Married with two sons and a daughter, Mukherjee, who was a teacher and journalist before entering parliament in 1969, has had stints in charge of India’s foreign, defense, commerce and steel ministries.
Mukherjee will take over from President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, whose five-year term ends July 24.