India's finance minister quits to contest poll

Published June 26, 2012 1:45PM (EDT)

NEW DELHI (AP) — Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee resigned from India's Cabinet on Tuesday to run as the governing party's candidate in next month's presidential election.

Mukherjee handed his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ahead of filing papers to contest the presidential post. Although largely a ceremonial role, the position gains importance in the event of a Parliament with no clear majority, when the president gets to decide which parties can form a government.

India is due to hold its next parliamentary elections in 2014.

Mukherjee also has the support of two major regional parties. His rival is Purno A. Sangma, a former speaker of the lower house of Parliament. Sangma is backed by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mukherjee, 77, was the main troubleshooter for the government in managing its fractious coalition partners. He told reporters that he was "ready to embark on a new journey."

A governing Congress party veteran, Mukherjee has been a lawmaker since 1969. He held numerous Cabinet positions including defense, external affairs and commerce before being appointed finance minister in January 2009.

The Congress party did not immediately indicate who will replace Mukherjee as finance minister at a time of rising inflation, slowing growth and the declining value of the rupee.

India's economic growth of 5.3 percent in the last quarter was the slowest in nine years.

The president is chosen by an electoral college composed of lawmakers from state assemblies and the federal Parliament. The election is scheduled for July 19.

The winner will succeed President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, India's first female president, whose five-year term ends July 24.

By Nirmala George

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