Indian PM Singh Sworn In Amid Reform Hopes
Saturday, 23 May 2009

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was sworn in on Friday for a second five-year term with a host of old-guard ministers at a time of economic downturn and fraught ties with Pakistan.

Singh's Congress party-led coalition has a stronger parliamentary majority than his first administration, although a southern ally said it would not join the government because of differences over ministerial positions.

Unfettered by its former leftist allies, Congress is likely to push reforms such as raising the foreign investment limit in insurance and opening up the pension sector.

However, it will face pressure to spread the benefits of growth in a country where around 30 percent earn just a dollar a day.

President Pratibha Patil administered the oath of office to Singh, 76, at the red sandstone presidential palace, watched by relatives and leaders of his party and its allies.

Nineteen other members of his cabinet, including Congress stalwart Pranab Mukherjee, who is tipped to be the new finance minister, were sworn in.

Portfolios of the ministers have not been allocated.

Junior ministers will be named over the next few days, the prime minister's office said, after 24 hours of wrangling over these positions among coalition allies of the Congress.

Rahul Gandhi, the fourth generation member of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, was not among the ministers sworn in, despite reports that the heir apparent, seen as the architect of the party's resurgence, could be given a ministerial job.

The Indian stockmarket surged earlier this week as investors welcomed Singh's strong mandate, which raised expectations for aggressive economic reforms at a time when growth in Asia's third-largest economy has slowed to 6.5 percent.

"The election is seen by many as a game changer. India has a real chance of breaking out, attracting strong inflows and being positioned in investors' minds alongside China," the Business Standard said.

"The new government has the mandate, there is a huge opportunity to bring about structural change across sectors, and (the) policy road map is also clear. We need the new government to deliver," the newspaper said.

Besides the slowdown, Singh's second term will face an array of challenges such as fraught relations with old rival Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks and a potential showdown with wealthier countries at the Doha world trade talks.

"There is an opportunity for change with this mandate. If in the first 100 days I don't see any signs of reforms being done or a timeline I will feel very concerned," Amit Mitra, head of India's industry lobby group, told Reuters.


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