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Central & South Asia
India elects first woman speaker
Prime minister hails Meira Kumar's election as "historic".
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2009 09:43 GMT
Kumar, centre, was elected unopposed by a voice vote in India's 543-seat parliament [AFP]

India's lower house of parliament has elected Meira Kumar as the first woman speaker to run its male-dominated chamber.

Her appointment as presiding officer was announced in New Delhi, the capital, on Wednesday.

Kumar, 64, was elected unopposed by India's 543-seat parliament, which has only 59 women members.

Kumar's nomination was put forward by the Congress party following their recent victory in general elections.

The motion to elect Kumar was also supported by members of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

'Historic occasion'

Neerja Choudhury, a political analyst based in India, said Kumar's nomination was a "conscious decision" on the part of Congress to strengthen its support base among India's 160 million Dalits, also known as "untouchables".

Shunned by higher castes, Dalits generally perform the lowliest occupations, including scavenging on rubbish dumps, and are the  poorest in terms of income, literacy and land.

As the daughter of Jagjivan Ram, a prominent Dalit leader and former deputy prime minister, Kumar replaces Somnath Catterjee, a communist lawmakrer who held the post for the previous five years.

Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, declared her appointment as an "historic occasion".

"For the first time a woman member has been elected speaker and that too a woman from the Dalit community.

"In electing you ... we members of parliament pay tribute to the  women of our country and the great contribution that they have made," he said.

Source:
Agencies
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