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In Droupadi Murmu Vs Yashwant Sinha, cross-voting, no shows

New Delhi: Elections to choose the 15th President of India — a race between NDA’s Droupadi Murmu and the opposition’s Yashwant Sinha — were held today. The contest is seen as all but over, counting parties that declared support for Ms Murmu.

Through the day, 728 electors, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former PM Manmohan Singh, voted. Eight MPs chose to abstain. They include two MPs each from the BJP and Shiv Sena, and one each from the Congress, Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM.

Several MLAs, including one from the Congress and two from Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party claimed on record that they have voted for the NDA candidate. No whip can be issued for Presidential elections as lawmakers are allowed to vote “according to their conscience”.

Droupadi Murmu, 64, was a strong contender for the country’s highest office before the 2017 presidential elections before Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind, a Dalit, was named as the government’s choice.

The NDA choice of Ms Murmu — a tribal woman from Odisha and a former Jharkhand Governor — is seen as a calculated move, drawing the support not only of Jharkhand’s ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, but also Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik, seen as a fence-sitter.

Ms Murmu has also been assured of support by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who lately is seldom on the same page as ally BJP.

Both factions of the Shiv Sena – whose split and the subsequent collapse of Maharashtra government dominated headlines for weeks – are also expected to support Ms Murmu.

While the Eknath Shinde faction, allied with the BJP, was supporting the NDA candidate, the faction led by Uddhav Thackeray, which was supporting Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha, decided to switch after 16 MPs met Uddhav Thackeray and suggested that they should vote for Ms Murmu..

The opposition settled on Mr Sinha – a former Union Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government who later joined Trinamool Congress – after three proposed candidates said no.

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, former Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah had all declined, citing various reasons.

The counting of votes will be held on July 21 and the new President will take oath on July 25, under the schedule announced by the Election Commission.