NEW DELHI, July 18 (IANS): India will elect a new president Thursday in what is a direct contest between ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate Pranab Mukherjee and opposition-backed Purno A. Sangma.
The polling will take place in the national and state capitals in which an electoral college consisting of members of parliament and the legislative assemblies will vote.
The votes will be counted Sunday, three days before the five-year tenure of President Pratibha Patil ends.
The 13th Indian president is expected to enter Rashtrapati Bhavan by July 25.
Mukherjee, who had served in the UPA government as finance minister before entering the presidential fray, is the hot favourite to win the election. He is expected to bag around 735,000 of the 10,97,000 votes of the 4,896 electors - 776 MPs and 4,120 assembly members.
Besides UPA members Congress, Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Rashtriya Lok Dal, DMK and National Conference, Mukherjee is also supported by the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Lok Janshakti Party, among others.
The Trinamool, which had been undecided on its support for Mukherjee, had changed its mind just two days before the polling and announced it would vote for the UPA candidate with "a heavy heart" due to lack of options.
With the Communist Party of India-Marxist and Forward Bloc too expressing support for Mukherjee and the Janata Dal-United and Shiv Sena breaking away the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to back him, wide acceptance of his candidature is evident.
Those likely to abstain from voting are Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Telugu Desam Party and Telangana Rashtriya Samithi. These parties have around 36,000 votes.
Then, there are around 32,000 votes with smaller parties who have no presence in parliament but have legislators in the states.
Sangma, a former Lok Sabha speaker, was a senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and a member of the Meghalaya assembly till jumping into the presidential race and had to quit both the party and his assembly membership.
He is expected to bag a maximum of 313,000 votes, being supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party, Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, Shiromani Akali Dal and Asom Gana Parishad.
The churning witnessed in the country's political space has left both the NDA and the Left Front divided. And, after anxious moments over the last three weeks over Trinamool's indecisiveness, the UPA has emerged a united lot.