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Singh takes next step to PM job

INDIA'S Congress party elected Manmohan Singh as leader of the Congress party yesterday, formally setting the stage for his appointment as prime minister following the general election victory.

Congress party President Sonia Gandhi proposed Manmohan Singh's name and it was immediately approved by thumping of desks by newly elected party lawmakers in the Indian parliament.

Singh, who will lead a coalition government, vowed to reverse a slowdown in growth that has hurt key sectors of the economy and led to loss of millions of jobs. "Economic slowdown has hurt us, we will have to reverse it," Singh said in his acceptance speech.

A Congress leader said Pranab Mukherjee who was foreign minister in the previous coalition was likely to be the finance minister in Singh's new cabinet.

Asked if the party had finalized Mukherjee as the candidate for the finance post, former trade minister Kamal Nath said, "more or less."

Mukherjee, a veteran politician and seen as a steady hand, had been heading the finance ministry since January when Prime Minister Singh, who was holding charge of finance, had heart surgery.

Singh's coalition is just 10 seats short of a parliamentary majority, boosting hopes of a stable government at a time when growth in Asia's third largest economy has slowed to its lowest level in six years.

The coalition was further strengthened after Mayawati, the powerful leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) representing the lower castes, pledged her support for the new coalition.

"Our 21 MPs will extend outside support to the UPA government," said Mayawati, who is also chief minister of most populous Uttar Pradesh state. Her party had fought the election against the Congress party.

Indian shares surged 17.3 percent on Monday at the prospect of a stable government expected to last the full five year term.


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