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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to step down after election due in May

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
January 3, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks in New Delhi on April 16, 2012.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks in New Delhi on April 16, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "I will hand the baton over to a new prime minister," Singh says
  • He has been in office for the governing Congress party since May 2004
  • The party suffered a bruising defeat in regional elections last month
  • Singh downplays accusations of corruption against his government

New Delhi (CNN) -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Friday that he will step down after his country's national elections due in May.

"In a few months' time, after the general election, I will hand the baton over to a new prime minister," Singh told a news conference in New Delhi.

The 81-year-old Oxford-educated Singh has been prime minister for India's governing Congress party since May 2004.

His move to rule himself out of the race for the top job in this year's general elections didn't surprise political observers.

His party suffered a bruising defeat in regional elections in December, billed by the country's news media as an indicator of political trends ahead of the upcoming national vote.

"There's nothing surprising about it.," said K.G. Suresh, a political commentator. "The way the Congress party failed in the semi-finals, it was a settled affair that Dr. Manmohan Singh will not be its face in the general elections."

A rash of corruption scandals has also undermined the reputation of Singh's coalition government over the past few years.

Asked if he ever thought of quitting his job, Singh said: "I never felt like resigning at any time. I have enjoyed doing my work. I have tried to do my work with all honesty, with all sense of integrity."

He sought to downplay allegations of corruption against his administration.

"I have every reason to believe when history is written of the period, we will come out unscathed," Singh said. "This is not to say there were no irregularities. There were irregularities, but the dimensions of the problems have been overstated by the media, by the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General), sometimes by other entities."

According to a damning report by India's national auditor, the CAG, the national treasury lost as much as $31 billion from the 2008 sale of the wireless frequencies.

The scandal rocked Singh's government during its second term, when it also struggled with accusations of large-scale fraud in the sports, real estate and coal sectors.

Singh, however, defended his government's record in fighting graft.

"We are deeply committed to the objective of combating corruption," he said. "An array of historical legislations has been enacted to make the work of the government transparent and accountable."

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