NEW DELHI — Lawmakers began voting Monday to choose India’s next president in an election expected to be won by a tribal woman from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The election of Draupadi Murmu is a formality, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP controls enough seats in federal and state legislatures to push through their preferred candidate. She is also likely to gain support from other regional parties in state legislatures.
The President in India is elected by an electoral college composed of legislators in both houses of Parliament and elected members of each state’s legislature. The president’s role is largely ceremonial, but the position can be important during times of political uncertainty, such as a hanging parliament, when the office assumes greater power.
The votes from Monday’s election will be counted on Thursday.
Modi’s party has projected Murmu as a leader representing poor tribal communities who generally lack health care and educational facilities in remote villages. Murmu, 64, is from eastern Odisha state and was previously the governor of Jharkhand state.
If elected, she will become the first female tribal president and the second female president of India.
Murmu’s main opponent is a former BJP rebel, a candidate fielded by a divided opposition. Yashwant Sinha, 84, was finance minister during the previous BJP government from 1998 to 2002. He resigned from the party after a disagreement with Modi on economic issues in 2018.
The winner replaces Ram Nath Kovind, a leader of the Dalit community, which is at the bottom of Hinduism’s complex caste hierarchy.
Kovind, 76, is also a longtime collaborator with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Corps, a Hindu nationalist group long accused of inciting religious hatred against Muslims. He has been President since 2017.
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