India set for first female president

Pratibha Patil, a diminutive 72-year-old lawyer, was set to be declared India's first woman president Saturday after one of the bitterest political campaigns in the nation's post-colonial history.

India set for first female president

Ballots cast by legislators were to be counted Saturday, with the official announcement of her election to the largely ceremonial post due later in the day.

However, the opposition has already conceded that Patil has defeated its candidate, the incumbent 84-year-old Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

The voting followed a presidential campaign described by analysts as the most vitriolic in India's six decades of independence.

Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress party, plucked Patil from political obscurity, saying her election would boost the cause of gender equality and be a "historic moment."

But Patil, a native of western Maharashtra state, was buffeted by accusations that she protected her brother in a murder probe and shielded her husband in a suicide scandal.

There were also claims of nepotism and involvement in a slew of financial scams.

Patil, a demure figure who dresses conservatively in a sari pulled over her hair, has denied any wrongdoing.

She has also been mocked for revealing that a dead spiritual guru gave her a "divine premonition of greater responsibility."

India's top news magazine, India Today, put her on its front cover with the headline "Embarrassing Choice."

Analysts say Patil has a tough act to follow in the form of India's popular, outgoing President Abdul Kalam. Congress rebuffed his bid for a second five-year term because, analysts say, it wanted a party loyalist.

The silver-haired, shaggy-locked missile scientist, who became a national hero after overseeing successful tests in 1998 that turned India into a nuclear power, was dubbed the "People's President" for his populist style.

Kalam, the son of an illiterate Muslim boatman, is known for his simple lifestyle despite occupying an opulent 340-room sandstone palace that housed the viceroy when Britain ruled the subcontinent.

Kalam said this week he will leave the palace where he has lived for the past five years with just "two small suitcases" after his term expires July 24.

A vegetarian teetotaller, Kalam has said he wishes to return to teaching at a university in Tamil Nadu after leaving the post.

He advised his countrymen, in a thinly veiled speech this week, not to "take gifts that come with a purpose and build families with character and a good value system."

Corruption is rife in Indian politics and bureaucracy.

Analysts have wondered whether Patil can resist the pressures of the ruling coalition and act independently.

Under the constitution, the prime minister holds the executive reins but the president plays a role in forming governments at state and federal levels, making the post hotly contested.

"The last few presidents have set a very high standard of non-partisan conduct," said analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. "We will have to wait and watch."

AFP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 21 Temmuz 2007, 15:30
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