Pranab favourite as lawmakers vote for new president (Evening Lead)
New Delhi, July 19 (IANS) It is advantage Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA's candidate, as Indian lawmakers Thursday voted to elect the country's 13th president, recording a massive turnout that could be anywhere close to 95 percent.
Mukherjee was in a direct contest with opposition-backed P.A. Sangma in the elections for which polling that began at 10 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. in Parliament House here and in assembly complexes in the states and union territories with legislatures.
The counting will take place on Sunday when the winner of the contest will be known, though it is almost clear that Mukherjee will romp home with a massive 735,000 of the 10,97,000 votes from among 4,896 electors -- 776 MPs and 4,120 assembly members.
At the end of the voting, the returning officer and Rajya Sabha Secretary General V.K. Agnihotri told reporters that "the polling was conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner in all the designated places for voting."
In Parliament House, where room number 63 on the first floor was the designated polling centre, 683 of the 699 MPs cast their ballots, while another eight members of legislative assemblies, who were permitted to vote here, too participated in the voting.
"Accordingly, this accounts for 96.06 percent voting in Parliament House," Agnihotri said.
From among the state assemblies, information was available immediately from only 22, while details from another eight were awaited, he added.
"Of the 4,112 MLAs and 77 MPs, who were allowed to vote in the states, 2,997 MLAs and 40 MPs in 22 states cast their ballots. That makes it 72 percent voting from the states for which information is available," Agnihotri said.
MPs and MLAs queued up in Parliament House and state assembly buildings, right outside the polling booths, even before the voting began and there was a steady flow of electors through the day till polling ended.
Bapi Raju Kanumuri, the Congress MP from Narsapuram in Andhra Pradesh, was the first MP to vote in Parliament House.
"My blessings are with Pranabda. I was the first to vote," Kanumuri told IANS as he came out of the polling station.
DMK's M.K. Alagiri, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member Bhartruhari Mahtab and Congress' Pratap Singh Bajwa were among the early voters. L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley and Murli Manohar Joshi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also voted.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachhan were among the early women voters.
As voting picked up, many MPs, including women, were seen standing in the queue to vote.
Mukherjee, who has a clear edge over opposition-favoured Sangma, came to vote shortly after 11 a.m. Congress MPs were seen greeting him.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi accompanied Mukherjee as the leaders cast their ballot one after the other amid camera flashlights.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi also voted shortly after.
Mukherjee also enjoys enjoys the support of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), YSR Congress and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
BJP-led NDA members Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Shiv Sena have also extended their support to the former finance minister besides the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and Forward Bloc.
The Communist Party of India, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) have said their MPs and legislators will abstain from voting.
Sangma said he was still "hopeful" despite the numbers being stacked against him.
"Look at my face, I am hopeful," Sangma told reporters. He is expected to bag about 313,000 votes, being supported by Bharatiya Janata Party, AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal, Shiromani Akali Dal and Asom Gana Parishad.
But some anxious moments were witnessed after SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav reportedly voted for Sangma by mistake and later returned his ballot paper to the returning officer claiming it was torn. He was permitted to cast a fresh ballot by Agnihotri.
This was enough for the Sangma camp to protest and they also lodged a written complaint with Agnihotri, asking him to considering the first ballot offered to Mulayam Singh for counting and not the replacement provided by the polling officers.
"I have sent the complaint to the Election Commission for a decision," Agnihotri added.
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