Ending weeks of wrangling, Indian lawmakers have voted to elect a new president in a direct contest between the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pranab Mukherjee and the opposition-backed P.A. Sangma.
Polling to choose the 13th president of India kicked off simultaneously throughout the county at the national and state capitals. Going by initial indications, the ruling party candidate Pranab Mukherjee appeared to have ensured his victory.
The bets on Mukherjee
Pollsters predicted that Mukherjee, the country's former finance minister, would corner a large chunk of the vote share of the electoral college comprising 4,120 assembly members and 776 members of parliament.
"His rival Purno Sangma, who is now a state legislator for a tribal constituency in the remote northeast, knows he has no chance but has to put on a brave face. It is a foregone conclusion and the writing is on the wall," Mukul Rai, a pollster from India Org, a non-profit research organization told DW.
Bapi Raju Kanumuri, a Congress MP from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh was the first MP to vote.
"My blessings are with Pranabda (Mukherjee)," said Kanumuri as he came out of the polling station in parliament.
Though the office of the president in India is largely ceremonial with all executive powers vested in the prime minister, the stakes are high for the ruling party which has worked overtime to ensure maximum support for Mukherjee, who before his nomination was widely perceived as the government's principal troubleshooter.
After weeks of bargaining, it even finally persuaded the Trinamool Congress Party, which has been the ruling coalition's chief ally, to reluctantly agree to back its candidate.
2014 general election
The next general election is due to take place in 2014. Political analysts believe that because of corruption scams, inflation and a string of other scandals under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's tenure, his Congress Party might not return to power in 2014.
As of now, even the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks weak and does not seem likely to win the next election outright.
In the event of a hung parliament in 2014, the president's role will be all the more crucial.
"Obviously, Mukherjee will play a decisive role as to who to invite to form the next government in the event of a fractured mandate. But he cannot be seen to be partisan and as president, he has to be like Caesar's wife - above suspicion," political scientist Dr. Sudha Pai told DW.
But Pai does concede that Mukherjee would make a good president because of his long standing in politics and his affable personality.
"He is a decent politician, knows the constitution and more importantly has a good equation with all politicians cutting across party lines," she adds.
However there are others who concede that Mukherjee's role as future president would come under scrutiny from the political class.
"Mukherjee has been in the eye of the storm as finance minister - with soaring inflation, key reforms being blocked and periodic hikes of petrol prices. His performance will come under the scanner and he cannot be perceived to be playing party politics," G V L Narasimha Rao, a noted psephologist told DW.
The jury is still out on the degree of influence Mukherjee will wield in his next role as president. The votes for the presidential election will be counted Sunday and the victorious candidate will be replacing India's first female president, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, whose five-year term ends next week.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning