Congress candidate wins India presidential vote

Associated Press
Relatives throw flower petals as India's president elect Pranab Mukherjee addresses media outside his residence after winning the election in New Delhi, India, Sunday, July 22, 2012. The candidate from India’s governing Congress party, former Finance Minister Mukherjee, was declared winner Sunday in the election for the country’s next president, a largely ceremonial position. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)
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NEW DELHI (AP) — The candidate from India's governing Congress party, former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, was declared winner Sunday in voting for the country's president, a largely ceremonial position.

Election official P.K. Agnihotri said Mukherjee, 76, had received more than twice as many votes as his rival in last Thursday's balloting by national and state legislators.

"I express deep gratitude to the people for electing me to this high office," Mukherjee said. He said he would try to justify the people's trust.

His rival, Purno Agitok Sangma, conceded defeat before the counting was complete Sunday. "I congratulate Mukherjee on his victory and I wish him success," he told reporters.

Mukherjee's elated supporters danced to the beat of drums and set off firecrackers outside his residence as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party chief, arrived to congratulate him. Several opposition groups also backed Mukherjee.

Mukherjee and Sangma, a former speaker of Parliament, were competing to succeed India's first female president, Pratibha Devisingh Patil. Mukherjee is to be sworn in on Wednesday.

In India, the prime minister is the head of government and the president is mainly a figurehead.

Mukherjee has served previously as foreign minister, defense minister and finance minister. His latest term as finance minister from 2009 until earlier this year was marred by declining growth, a tumbling currency, rising inflation and a failure to push through proposed reforms. India's economic growth in the last quarter was 5.3 percent, the slowest rate in years.

Mukherjee's emphatic win is a morale booster for the beleaguered ruling party, which faces parliamentary elections in 2014. Its image has been tarnished by corruption allegations against several ministers and demands that it take more action against graft.

In a reflection of Mukherjee's personal ties with politicians of all hues, lawmakers belonging to some key allies of the main opposition group, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, voted for him.

The Congress party will need their continued support to overcome a major challenge from the BJP and its allies in the 2014 elections.

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