In India, veteran Congress Party politician Pranab Mukherjee is widely expected to emerge as the country’s new president in elections being held Thursday. Although the post is largely ceremonial, the president could play key role in the 2014 elections. The government is also expected to move ahead with economic reforms following the presidential poll.
Since entering parliament over four decades ago, 76-year-old Pranab Mukherjee has headed top government posts and won the reputation of being one of India’s most savvy politicians.
He stepped down as finance minister last month to run for president with the backing of the Congress Party-led coalition, and has far more support than his rival, P.A. Sangma.
The president is elected by an electoral college consisting of national and regional lawmakers.
Although the post is ceremonial, the president plays a key role in deciding who will govern India if no political party wins a clear majority. India has been ruled by coalition governments for many years.
Jyotirmaya Sharma, a political science professor at Hyderabad University, called Mukherjee one of India's most experienced politicians. He said Mukherjee has three tremendous advantages.
"One is a tremendous insight into the working of Indian politics. Number two, [he] has the ability to create a consensus, has the ability to listen, has the ability to be patient,” said Sharma. "Number three, he has the idea of India with all its complexity, all its diversity."
Mukherjee is a close confidant of Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi and could be an asset for the party in the 2014 national elections if he becomes president. Support for the Congress Party has been waning, and it is not expected to win a clear mandate. In the event of a hung parliament, the president will decide which party gets the first shot at forming a government.
While Mukherjee has won wide acclaim for his political skills, he has been criticized for his recent stint as finance minister. On his watch, economic growth plummeted, the rupee lost value and foreign investment plunged following a series of controversial tax proposals.
Sharma said Mukherjee may have been out of touch with changing times. “Mr. Mukherjee belongs to an era of running the economy of a country which is not in consonance with the post-liberalization world," he said. "I do believe that his performance as finance minister and what he may bring to the office of the president, they are unrelated questions.”
The government is expected to undertake a series of reforms following the presidential poll. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a well-known economist, has taken charge of the finance ministry and emphasized the need to restore investor confidence.
Observers say a victory for Mukherjee would give the government a political boost and the will to move ahead with reforms, which had been blocked by some coalition partners. The results of the presidential poll will be announced Sunday.