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India elects savvy political veteran as president

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NEW DELHI — Pranab Mukherjee, a former finance minister and troubleshooter for the ruling Congress Party, was elected president of India, officials and local media said Sunday, securing nearly twice as many votes as his rival in the electoral college as voting continued.

Mukherjee, 76, defeated Purno A. Sangma, 64, a former speaker of the lower house of Parliament. A final tally in the 4,896-member electoral college of state and federal legislators is expected Monday. He’s due to take the oath of office for his five-year term on Wednesday.

Although the president is India’s head of state and of the armed forces, the job is largely ceremonial and includes giving speeches, representing the country overseas and appointing judges and ministers on the advice of the prime minister. But India has several elections ahead, including a general election due by early 2014, when Mukherjee’s experience and steady hand could be helpful.

The former journalist and teacher has been in politics for more than four decades, holding positions in India’s foreign, defense, commerce and steel ministries. In recent years, he was often called on to mediate among squabbling members of the ruling coalition.

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In his most recent job as finance minister, a position he held from 2009 until last month, he came under criticism as the world’s largest democracy suffered from food-price inflation, a falling rupee, controversial decisions involving foreign investors and declining economic growth.

Mukherjee, who is married with two sons and a daughter, takes over from President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, whose relatively unremarkable five-year term ends Tuesday.

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