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Latest update : 2009-05-20

India's Congress party, which surged back to power on a pro-poor platform, has been invited to form the next government following month-long elections. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold the premier's post for a second five-year term.

AFP - India's Congress party, which surged back to power following month-long elections, was Wednesday invited to form the next government.
Congress, which campaigned on a pro-poor platform, was asked to form the government after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party chairwoman Sonia Gandhi met President Pratibha Patil at the British colonial-era presidential palace.
"The president has invited me to form the new government," Singh said after their meeting, adding that his new administration  would be sworn in Friday.
Gandhi's Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) grabbed 262 seats in 543-seat parliament and with the support of allies, the coalition's tally is well past the half-way mark needed to form a government.
With support extended by three other regional parties, the UPA's legislative strength stood at 322, Singh told reporters.
The 76-year-old Singh earlier this week was nominated to hold the premier's post for a second five-year term.
Earlier in the day, the Congress party and its allies haggled over cabinet positions with Singh in a position to dictate terms after his party's electoral triumph.
Leaders of the coalition's members made their pitches for cabinet berths at a meeting at Gandhi's residence.
Congress, which won 206 of the 543 seats in parliament -- its strongest showing since 1991 -- will retain the portfolios for finance, defence, foreign affairs and internal security, a senior party figure told AFP.
The victorious alliance's other key members, the Trinamool Congress and a regional Tamil party, the DMK, are expected to hold out for cabinet positions for railways, food and telecommunications.
"These are infrastructure ministries with the potential of catering to audiences back home and therefore ideal for regional parties," said political analyst Rasheed Kidwai.
Congress spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi stressed allocating cabinet portfolios was the prerogative of the prime minister.
Singh and Gandhi would finalise the names at "one-to-one discussions" in consultations with allies, he said.
The Congress leader said Singh would make his choices carefully, based on performance records and the ability of candidates to deliver.
"The mandate is a big one but with that comes pressure to choose people who perform -- who are accountable. This will be factored in while choosing cabinet ministers," the senior party figure said.
With more than 200 seats in its own right, Congress is "in the driver's seat" when it comes to dividing up the ministries, said political analyst Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.
"The allies can bargain hard, as much as they want, but at the end of the day it will be Sonia Gandhi and Singh who will decide who will be in the cabinet," Thakurta said.
Outgoing foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee is tipped to be the new finance minister, while Palaniappan Chidambaram is expected to retain his top post at the Home Ministry.
Media reports said Kamal Nath could be moved from trade to the foreign ministry.
Dwivedi said Singh had stressed that providing a strong and stable government was his first priority at the same time as pushing forward pro-poor schemes launched in his previous tenure.
Singh said Tuesday the strong Congress mandate came with the challenge of "rising expectations" in the country of more than 1.1 billion.
He said Indians, especially the youth -- 51 percent of the population is under 25 -- would not tolerate "business as usual."
"They expect us to work with renewed energy. They expect the government to cater to their aspirations," he said.

Date created : 2009-05-20