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 turmoil.
Without the support of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Congress and its remaining allies in the coalition government have about 38 percent 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 percent 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 said.
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.