New Delhi - India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will
step down on June 24 to contest the presidential election, television channels
reported on Friday, clearing the way for a cabinet shakeup at a time when the
government is struggling with a faltering economy.
The ruling Congress party was due to meet its coalition
allies on Friday to finalise its presidential candidate.
Party sources have
said that Mukherjee is the front-runner for the largely ceremonial position,
although a key ally this week rejected his candidacy, throwing the race into
Without the support of West Bengal chief minister Mamata
Banerjee, Congress and its remaining allies in the coalition government have
about 38% of the votes in the Electoral College that will elect the president.
The party was lobbying left-wing parties on Friday to get past the 50% mark.
“The finance minister may resign once the prime minister is
back from the G20 (summit), probably on the 24th if his name is finalised as a
presidential candidate,” a source close to Mukherjee told Reuters.
The source said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was expected
to take over the finance portfolio temporarily, at least for the “next few
months”, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because
Mukherjee’s candidacy had still to be confirmed.
Singh, the architect of landmark economic reforms in 1991,
has been widely criticised for what investors and business leaders see as weak
leadership on the economy.
His fragile coalition government has been battered by a
series of corruption scandals and policy flip-flops on major economic reforms
and has struggled to formulate a strategy to boost its flagging economy, arrest
rising inflation and narrow widening fiscal and current account deficits.