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What Is A Floor Test That All The News Channels Are Talking About? Karnataka Elections 2018 Special

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Karnataka elections have turned out to be waaaaay more interesting than expected. BJP forced its claim to form a government, despite a visible majority of Congress-JD(S) alliance. So much that BJP’s CM candidate BS Yeddyurappa immediately took the oath and claimed himself as the CM of Karnataka, mocking several constitutional rules.

Followed with the opposition from Congress and JD(S), the Supreme Court has scheduled a floor test today (Saturday) at 4 pm to decide the fate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) on the floor of the House. With the Supreme Court having ruled that it is the Assembly which will decide which party has the rightful claim to form the government, the focus now shifts to the terms and practices part of the parliamentary procedures of India.

What’s up with the Governor and the Supreme Court?

The Indian Constitution has provided several mechanisms for the smooth functioning of the parliamentary democracy in the country. The Supreme Court is the interpreter of the Constitution whenever there is a matter relating to the question of law.

As soon as the election results are declared and published by the Election Commission, political developments start taking place. The party with a majority or highest number of seats or alliances claim the majority and approach the Governor. However, the law demands majority to be proved only on the floor of the House.

Governor summons the house for the first sitting so that new government can be formed. Before this, Governor may send an invitation to the party with majority-clearing seats or the single largest party or the alliance to prove the majority on the floor of the house. The day when the floor test is to be conducted is decided by the Governor. However, in Karnataka, the Supreme court has ordered the test before the date set out by the Governor following an appeal filed by the Congress and JD(S), apparently to avoid horse-trading – poaching of MLAs of one party by another party to make a majority.

So what is a Floor test and what will happen in Karnataka today? 

Floor test is a Constitutional mechanism to know whether the executive enjoys the confidence of the legislature, which is mandated by the Indian Constitution. Which simply means, who has the majority on their side.

In a floor test, the person who is appointed as the Chief Minister needs to pass it. As per the Constitutional requirement, the Chief Minister of a state is appointed by the Governor.

When a single party gets the majority of seats in the house, the Governor appoints that person as the Chief Minister. However, when no party is in a position to form the government and the Governor appoints the leader of the single largest party or the alliance, the majority is questioned and to prove the majority/confidence the CM is asked to move a vote of confidence and win it to remain the leader of the house.

The Governor orders the floor test and the Chief Minister appointed has to prove that he/she enjoys the confidence of the house. It is tested among the members present and voting. If confidence motion fails to pass, the Chief Minister has to resign.

Who is a pro tem Speaker and what is his role?

Pro Tem is the abbreviation of the Latin word, Pro tempore, which means ‘for the time being.’

KG Bopaiah, a BJP leader, has been appointed as the Speaker Pro tem for today’s floor test in Karnataka assembly.

As provided by the Constitution, the Speaker vacates his office immediately before the first meeting of the newly elected house. Thereafter, the Governor appoints a member of the assembly as the Speaker Pro Tem. Usually, the senior-most member is selected for the position. This is another flouting of the constitutional rule that has been noticed in Karnataka’s election – with KG Bopaiah not being the senior-most member yet

The Governor administers the oath to the Pro Tem Speaker.

Is KG Bopaiah’s appointment as pro-tem Speaker also a violation of constitutional rules?

Not constitutional, but traditional. As soon as the announcement of four-term BJP MLA K.G. Bopaiah name was made, senior Congress leader and advocate, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, opposed the governor’s choice of pro tem speaker as well.

With the governor appointing Bopaiah 24 hours before the 4 pm deadline for Yeddyurappa, set by the apex court, for convening the House for the trust vote on May 19, Singhvi said that as a convention, the senior most MLA, who may be “man, woman or from whichever party” should be made the pro tem speaker.

In this case, he said, “everyone knows that Deshpande is the seniormost MLA and yet Bopaiah has been made the pro tem speaker”.

The law on pro tem speaker is laid down under Article 180(1) of the constitution. It states that “while the office of Speaker is vacant, the duties of the office shall be performed by the Deputy Speaker or, if the office of Deputy Speaker is also vacant, by such member of the Assembly as the Governor may appoint for the purpose”.

The Speaker Pro Tem has all the powers of the Speaker. He/she presides over the first sitting of the house. His main duty is to administer the oath to the newly elected member. He facilitates the house to elect the new Speaker. As soon as the new Speaker is elected, the office of Pro Tem ceases to exist.

KG Bopiah had earlier saved BJP’s CM candidate, B.S. Yeddyurappa’s government in 2010

On October 2011, 11 MLAs of the ruling BJP along with some independent MLAs had revolted against Yeddyurappa and submitted a letter to the governor withdrawing their support to the BJP government, Bopaiah, who was then speaker, had disqualified them and saved the government.

Supreme Court of India had termed his actions as the speaker as ‘drastic’, ‘partisan’. It also pointed out that the decision was taken in ‘great hurry’ with ‘extraneous considerations.’

“The Speaker’s action did not meet the twin tests of natural justice and fair play. He was ignoring the constitutional norms. Extraneous considerations are writ large on the face of the order of the speaker. Unless it was to ensure that the trust vote did not go against the CM, there was no conceivable reason for the Speaker to have taken up the disqualification application in such a great hurry. The procedure adopted by the Speaker seems to indicate that he was trying to meet the time schedule set by the governor for the trial of strength in the assembly and to ensure that the appellants and the other independent MLAs stood disqualified prior to the date on which the floor was to be held”, the court had said.

Hence, the choice of Governor by the BJP and then the choice of pro-tem Speaker by the Governor has all been of dissatisfaction to the Congress and JD(S) and might go against the fair play that is to happen today!