Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nominated candidate Draupadi Murmu is in the lead for the mainly ceremonial role, with results set to be announced later this week.

If Murmu wins the election, she will become the first tribal president and the second-ever female president of India.
If Murmu wins the election, she will become the first tribal president and the second-ever female president of India. (Reuters)

India's parliament has begun voting for a new president, with a female politician from one of the country's tribal communities the favourite for the post.

If elected following votes from Monday's election, Draupadi Murmu, from the Santhal tribe, will become the first tribal president and the second-ever female president of India.

The election of Murmu is a formality as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controls enough seats in federal and state legislatures to push its favoured candidate.

Murmu’s main opponent is a former BJP rebel, a candidate put up by a divided opposition.

Yashwant Sinha, 84, was finance minister during the previous BJP government from 1998 to 2002. He quit the party following a divergence with Modi on economic issues in 2018.

The winner will replace Ram Nath Kovind, a leader from the Dalit community, which is at the lowest end of the complex hierarchy of caste in Hinduism.

Kovind, 76, is also a longtime associate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Corps, a Hindu nationalist group that has long been accused of stoking religious hatred against Muslims.

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Election process

Murmu, 64, began her career as a schoolteacher in the eastern state of Odisha before going into politics. 

She has held ministerial positions in the state government, and been governor of the neighbouring state of Jharkhand.

India's president is chosen by nearly 5,000 elected members of both houses of parliament and regional legislatures across the country.

Each of their votes is weighted according to the size of their constituency and they rank the candidates in order of preference.

If no one has more than 50 percent support, the lowest-scoring candidate is eliminated and their votes redistributed until someone reaches the mark.

The result will be announced later this week.

India's prime minister wields executive power, but the president can send back a few parliamentary bills for reconsideration. The president also plays a guiding role in the process of forming governments.

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Source: AFP