New Delhi: Election for the 14th President of the country, in which ruling NDA candidate Ramnath Kovind and joint Opposition candidate Meira Kumar are pitted against each other,have begun.
The voting began at 10 am at 32 polling stations, one in Parliament and 32 in 31 state Assemblies across the country.
The counting of votes will take place from 11am on July 20. Incumbent President Pranab Mukherjee's term expires on July 24 and a new President has to take over on July 25.
The NDA can breathe easy as the numbers are stacked in its favour to comfortably send its nominee, a Dalit leader of BJP, who hails from rural Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh and who had been Bihar Governor for the past three years, to Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Kovind was the surprise choice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the choice turned out to be an ace up his sleeve as his candidature elicited support from the Janata Dal (U) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who broke away from the ranks of the Opposition in extending support of his party to Kovind.
The combined Opposition candidate and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has appealed to the Legislators to vote according to their conscience.
Kumar is the daughter of the country's veteran Dalit leader Babu Jagjivan Ram, who had served as Union Minister for several decades in the Congress governments at the Centre.
The President is chosen by an electoral college, comprising all the MPs and MLAs in the country, with weighted votes apportioned. The NDA has about 50 per cent of vote share, but is comfortably placed to get its nominee elected.
The TRS and BJD have already declared their support to Kovind and YSR Congress, headed by Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, has also reiterated its support to the BJP candidate.
The electoral college has a vote value of 10.98 lakh and comprises 4,896 electors - elected members of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and elected members of the Legislative Assemblies of the states and Union Territories.
According to the Election Commission, since the technology for proportional election and single transferable vote is yet to be developed in the electronic voting machines, the Presidential election would take place through ballot papers.
While announcing the schedule, the then Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had said the electors would be allowed to fill the form in any of the recognised Indian languages and would have to mark the preference in figures only.
''The elector can have as many preferences as the number of candidates, but the marking of the first preference is compulsory for the ballot to be valid. The other preferences will be optional,'' he stated.
For marking the votes, the Election Commission will provide special pens to the electors in the polling booth along with the ballot paper. ''Only these pens can be used for marking the votes. The use of any other pen would render the ballot invalid.'' The Lok Sabha Secretary General has been appointed as Returning Officer for the Presidential election.
Zaidi had also pointed out that political parties cannot issue any whip to their MPs and MLAs in the matter of voting.