(AFP) – May 19, 2009
NEW DELHI (AFP) — Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vowed on Tuesday to meet the rising expectations of the country's 1.1 billion population after his Congress-led government was swept back to power.
He made the pledge after elected Congress members voted for him to head the party in parliament -- a formality needed to form a new government.
The prime minister, whose Congress party scored last weekend its biggest election victory in nearly two decades, said the strong mandate came with the challenge of "rising expectations."
He said Indians, especially the youth -- 51 percent of the population are 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 told Congress parliamentary party members.
"They expect a more responsive government," he said.
Singh, an esteemed economist, added India must not lag behind the rising economies of the East.
"We cannot afford to miss the bus now," he said, noting many Asian nations were forging ahead as the balance of economic power shifts to the East from the West.
He made a pitch for economic reforms, which analysts say will be easier now the party has enough seats to govern without the backing of the communists, who blocked liberalisation attempts in the previous parliament.
"The period ahead could be decisive. We must grasp the nettle firmly and forge ahead," Singh said.
Economist Rajeev Malik of Macquarie Securities called the comprehensive poll victory a "game-changing election verdict."
"With the Congress in a much stronger driving seat, it will provide stability and also boost the chances of further reforms," he said.
India's stock market has soared over 17 percent on the Congress win with analysts expecting the government to re-start privatising assets to close a gaping fiscal gap and loosen some foreign investment rules.
The premier said the outcome of the election, in which Congress's performance exceeded even the most optimistic exit poll forecasts, had made India "stand tall as a democracy."
The Congress-led alliance won 262 of 543 seats, with Congress's own tally at 206 -- its best performance since 1991. The main opposition grouping, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, won 159 seats.
Many observers expect Singh, 76, to hand over power midway through his five-year mandate to Rahul Gandhi, heir to the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty. Gandhi, 38, was the star Congress campaigner in the elections.
"He has won his place in power through this election," said veteran Indian commentator M.J. Akbar.
Gandhi told reporters he had made up his mind on an invitation by Singh to join the cabinet but was keeping his decision under wraps for now.
"You will soon come to know," he said.
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