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Conventions and the numbers: All about the floor test in Karnataka today

The BS Yeddyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government faces a cliffhanger vote of confidence in Karnataka on Saturday that will decide its fate.

india Updated: May 19, 2018 09:06 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Karnataka,Karnataka Assembly,Floor test
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader B. S. Yeddyurappa flashes the victory sign after taking oath as Chief Minister of the southern state of Karnataka inside the governor's house in Bengaluru, India, May 17, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

The BS Yeddyurappa-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government faces a cliffhanger vote of confidence on Saturday that will decide its fate. Situations where parties or alliances fail to get an outright majority after a general election potentially give rise to political manoeuvring and questions of constitutionality. Here’s a primer to make sense of what might unfold in Karnataka.

How do the numbers look for Yeddyurappa?

The Karnataka assembly has 224 members, but with polling for two seats delayed, and one member elected from two constituencies, it has, effectively, 221 members. Yeddyurappa’s Bharatiya Janata Party has 104 members but an effective strength of 103 since one of its members is now the pro-tem Speaker (his vote will be counted only in the case of a tie). To win a trust vote, Yeddyurappa will need seven more votes - this could be a mix of independents and those from?Congress and JD(S) willing to cross-vote. With 111 votes, the Yeddyuruppa government will have a majority. Or he will have to ensure the effective strength of the house is reduced with 14 Opposition members abstaining. This would reduce the house to 207, and with 103 on either side. In this case, the pro-tem Speaker’s vote will be counted. In a third scenario, the BJP needs to increase in its own strength and bank on enough abstentions to constitute a majority of the existing assembly’s strength. Failing all this, BSY will lose the vote.

What if Congress or Janata Dal (Secular) members were to (a) cross-vote (b) remain absent or (c) be present but abstain from voting? Will they be disqualified?

If, hypothetically speaking, JD(S) or Congress members vote against their party directions, their votes will be counted as valid. If some Opposition members remain present in House but abstain from voting, then too this will work to Yeddyurappa’s advantage by bringing down the required majority. However, in both cases, it would attract anti-defection provisions leading to disqualification. If a member remains absent, then he/she may attract the anti-defection law unless he can prove that he was absent due to genuine personal emergency. To escape the anti-defection law, two-thirds of the members of a party must defect.

On what grounds can MLAs can be disqualified?

All newly elected MLAs, after taking oath, are governed by applicable rules of disqualification. They are of two types. One, Article 102 of the Constitution lays down grounds for disqualification relating to code of conduct and office of profit etc. The other major ground for disqualification relates to defection, or switching of sides. Anti-defection provisions were added to the Constitution as the Tenth Schedule after the 52nd Amendment. This is particularly relevant to Karnataka’s case.

Do anti-defection provisions and disqualification apply automatically the moment Opposition members cross-vote or defy whips?

No. Anti-defection provisions are applied later. A party has to first press cross-voting charges against a member by moving the Speaker.

To prove a majority during a confidence motion, does a party need a majority of the entire house or those present and voting?

A party or a group of parties -- in Karnataka’s case, the BJP -- will need a simple majority (50% + 1) of members of the House present and voting. A two-thirds majority, often needed to pass special bills, doesn’t apply in this case.

Does a floor test happen before swearing in of newly elected MLAs? How will a floor test happen in Karnataka?

Under Article 99 of the Constitution, no elected member of a House can take his or her seat before the oath of office is administered. Under Article 104, they can be disqualified if they vote before taking such an oath. The pro-tem speaker in Karnataka has to therefore administer the oath to all legislators before Saturday’s majority test. The Supreme Court has rejected the Yeddyurappa government’s plea for voting through a secret ballot. The voting will therefore have to be conducted electronically.

Is there a difference between a no-confidence motion and motion of confidence of the House? Which of these two apply to BS Yeddyurappa?

The Constitution’s Article 118 permits each House to make its own rules on conduct of business. Therefore, procedures of “no-confidence motion” as well as “motion of confidence” are laid down in the Lower House’s published rulebook. In the case of Lok Sabha, it is called the “Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha”. Clause 198 of this rulebook provides for a “motion of no-confidence” against a ruling government. It can be initiated by any member. As opposed to this, Yeddyurappa will have to move a “motion of confidence” to prove his majority, for which there’s no separate rule.

First Published: May 19, 2018 07:51 IST