NEW DELHI – Thousands of national and state legislators on Thursday were selecting India's next president, a largely ceremonial role expected to go to the governing Congress Party's former finance minister.
Pranab Mukherjee has been traveling the country for weeks to shore up support among the 4,896-member electoral college against his main competition, opposition candidate and former Parliament speaker Purno Agitok Sangma. Results are expected Sunday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi and Mukherjee waved cheerfully at news cameras as they cast their ballots in New Delhi.
The 76-year-old Mukherjee has been a Congress Party stalwart since 1969 and a key troubleshooter in managing its fractious coalitions.
At different times he has served as foreign minister, defense minister and finance minister, the latter twice. His latest term controlling the finance portfolio from 2009 was marred by spiraling growth, tumbling currency and rising inflation. India's economic growth of 5.3 percent in the last quarter was the slowest in nine years.
Many business leaders were relieved by his resignation last month as finance minister, blaming him for blocking reforms and undermining foreign investment. The prime minister, upon taking control of the ministry, urged finance officials to "revive the animal spirit" in India's economy, implying that Mukherjee had somehow suppressed it.
The new president will be replacing India's first female president, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, whose five-year term ends on Tuesday.