New Delhi (CNN) -- Indian lawmakers cast ballots Thursday to elect a new president for the South Asian democracy, with the ruling party's candidate considered the almost-certain winner.
That candidate, Pranab Mukherjee, is a veteran politician and a former finance minister. Mukherjee's rival is opposition-backed candidate P.A. Sangma, a former speaker of the Indian parliament.
Indian presidents are elected through an electoral college made up of more than 4,800 federal and state lawmakers. The result from Thursday's vote are expected to be announced Sunday.
In India, the president is head of state while the prime minister heads the government.
Still, the Indian presidents, in their largely ceremonial position, hold considerable power as the supreme commander of the country's armed forces and custodian of the national constitution, political commentator K.G. Suresh explained.
The new president could play a key role in deciding who forms the next government in case the next general elections, due in 2014, result in a split parliament, analysts say.
"Now we have a coalition era. We do not know in 2014, when the parliament election takes place, which party would be able to get a clear majority," Suresh said. "If it doesn't happen, the president of India has to then take a call as to whom to invite (to form the government) within the parameters of the constitution of India."
Prime minister Manmohan Singh was among voters who cast their ballots Thursday.
The new president will replace Pratibha Devisingh Patil, the first woman to hold the post.
Mukherjee was named the presidential candidate by the ruling United Progressive Alliance headed by Sonia Gandhi, who is also the chief of India's Congress Party.