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India Elects First Woman President Amid Controversy


India has elected its first woman president. Results show a landslide victory for a long-time loyalist of the country's foremost political dynasty. But as VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, the selection of Pratibha Patil for the figurehead post comes after what Indian analysts are describing as one of the most bitter presidential elections there in decades.

It was a landslide victory for Pratibha Patil, 72, the governing coalition's choice for president. The long-time Congress Party ally defeated, by nearly a two to one margin, India's vice president, Bhairon Singh Shekawhat, 83, who was backed by the opposition.

The results for the largely ceremonial post were announced Saturday, two days after local and national level legislators voted by secret ballot.

Officials say the governing coalition candidate garnered 638,116 votes to the vice president's 331,306 votes.

The new president, moments after the results were announced, briefly spoke to supporters gathered in front of her residence.

"I am grateful to the people of India and to the men and women of India," she said. "And this is a victory of the principles, which our Indian people uphold. Once again, I thank every one of you. Thank you."

Ms. Patil, a lawyer by training and largely unknown nationally until her nomination, has close links to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and was a steadfast loyalist of India's first female prime minister, the iron-fisted Indira Gandhi.

The former Rajasthan governor's election comes after weeks of mudslinging by the opposition, which questioned her fitness to serve. It was alleged that she protected her brother in a murder investigation and had allegedly been involved in numerous financial irregularities. She also raised eyebrows by stating that one of her disciples had channeled a dead religious leader who proclaimed that Ms. Patil would soon be handed "great responsibility."

With legal proceedings pending against members of her family, some observers question whether India's first female president is likely to have a controversy-free five-year term as did her predecessor in what is supposed to be a non-political post. She succeeds the popular APJ Abdul Kalam, one of the country's most distinguished scientists, who chose not to stand for another term.


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