Friday, May 22, 2009

Manmohan Singh sworn in as PM for 2nd term

Updated at: 2020 PST, Friday, May 22, 2009

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was sworn in for a second term Friday, amid a row between his Congress party and a key ally over cabinet posts following their resounding election triumph.

The 76-year-old, soft-spoken economist and 19 members of his cabinet took their oath of office from Indian president Pratibha Patil at the presidential palace in New Delhi. The portfolios of those sworn in have yet to be allocated.

A dispute over cabinet positions clouded the day, with a key regional ally from southern India, the DMK party, threatening to quit the alliance.

Singh is the first prime minister since India's first post-independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru to return to office after completing a full five-year term.

Congress had campaigned hard on a poverty-alleviation platform for India's rural millions, and voters also responded to the image of Singh as a steady, pragmatic leader capable of steering the country through an economic downturn.

His coalition won 262 seats in the 543-member national parliament, just 10 short of the 272 needed for a working majority.

The alliance quickly garnered pledges of support from independents and others to take its voting strength to 322.

But Singh and Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi have had to bargain hard with their electoral partners over the distribution of cabinet positions.

The sticking point in talks with the DMK, the biggest ally, has been over its demand for nine cabinet positions with the Congress willing to concede only six.

"We both have differing perceptions on this," a Congress official told AFP after Singh met senior party colleagues at his residence to try and finalise his cabinet.

"The prime minister thinks the people have spoken in favour of good governance and he intends to focus on performance and accountability while choosing his ministers. That is his prerogative," another Congress source said.

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