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India: Gandhi Moves Closer To Becoming Prime Minister - 2004-05-15


India's Congress party has re-elected Italian-born Sonia Gandhi party leader, virtually assuring her ascension to be the country's first foreign-born prime minister.

The party's 144 lawmakers unanimously elected the 57-year-old Mrs. Gandhi Saturday as head of the Congress parliamentary caucus. The move takes her one step closer to becoming leader of the world's largest democracy.

The Communist Party of India, a key Congress ally, has also backed Mrs. Gandhi for the prime minister's post.

If elected, Mrs. Gandhi will be the first Christian and the second woman to lead the mainly Hindu, but constitutionally secular India. She also will be the fourth member of India's venerable Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to head the government, following in the footsteps of her husband, Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1991, and her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, slain in 1984.

Mrs. Gandhi's Congress party stunned opponents and allies alike this week, scoring an unexpected election victory and ousting the Hindu nationalist coalition, led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Congress won 145 seats and now has the largest voting bloc in the 545-seat parliament, but will have to form alliances with smaller parties in order to form a majority government.

Congress must have at least 272 seats for a working (simple) majority.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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