India is beginning indirect elections for a new president on Thursday 19 July. Analysts say ruling Congress party candidate Pranab Mukherjee is likely to win, but he faces a strong challenge from the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate P.A. Sangma. Although India's president is largely ceremonial, the appointment still holds political influence, making these the most-watched presidential elections in years.
The Congress candidate, Mr. Mukherjee is a former finance minister, and has the backing to secure the post. However, his 40-year political career has also seen some controversies.
Indirect Elections, But An Important Poll
India does not elect its president directly, via votes cast by all citizens. Instead, the president is chosen by representatives of the people through an Electoral College.
The voters thus consist of elected members of both Houses of Parliament and the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of India's states.
The country's main political factions are treating the presidential poll as a run-up to the 2014 parliamentary elections. Thus the choice of India's president has become more important, as parties are forming alliances not just for the presidential vote but also the forthcoming general elections.
India practices a system of parliamentary democracy. The powers of government are held by the office of the Prime Minister. However, the President of India is considered the head of state, formal head of the legislature, and also Supreme Commander of India's military.
In theory, one of the Indian president’s most important tasks is to help form a new government when no party wins a clear majority in parliamentary elections. However, there is by now established precedent for how the president is supposed to act in such cases.
The president's other major power is to ask the government to reconsider bills not related to budgeted financial spending, a check on the government's power. But only a few Indian presidents have exercised this authority.
India's Next President?
Given the voting representatives that have spoken in favour of the Congress candidate, Mr. Mukherjee, he is expected to win the post unless something surprising occurs. Mr. Mukherjee has significant experience in government and has shown the ability to reach out to politicians from other parties. However, critics fear he may be too much of a party man to challenge the government at critical junctures.
Analysis: India’s Next Top Man [New York Times, 17 July 2012]
Report: Indian presidential elections couldn’t get any bigger [Gulf News, 16 July 2012]