File image: Puducherry CM V Narayanasamy (Image: Twitter/@VNarayanasami)
Chief Minister V Narayanasamy-led Congress government in the Union Territory of Puducherry is set to face a floor test on February 22. The vote has to be completed by 5 pm.
The floor test was called by new Lieutenant Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan based on opposition's claim that the ruling party no longer commanded a majority in the Legislative Assembly follow recent resignations of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).
Soundararajan, the governor of Telangana, was given additional charge of Puducherry after Kiran Bedi's sudden removal last week.
As many as five MLAs had tendered their resignation last week, with just a couple of months before the UT heads for assembly polls in April-May.
On February 21, two more MLAs from the ruling side – one belonging to the Indian National Congress and the other from its ally the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) – resigned. With this, the Congress-led ruling alliance’s numerical strength in the assembly is believed to have fallen to 12. The House currently has 26 seats (as seven other seats are vacant) and at least 14 are required to command a majority.
The opposition alliance comprising the All India NR Congress, backed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), may now have the support of 14 MLAs.
Congress is believed to have the support of nine MLAs, DMK two and an Independent. In contrast, AINRC has the backing of seven MLAs, AIADMK four and the BJP three (all three previously nominated by the Lieutenant Governor).
What is a floor test?
A floor test is a constitutional mechanism. It is used to determine if the incumbent government enjoys the support of the legislature. This voting process happens in the state or a Union Territory’s Legislative Assembly or the Lok Sabha at the central level.
Technically, the chief minister of a Union Territory with a Legislative Assembly is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor. The appointed chief minister usually belongs to the single largest party or the coalition which has the ‘magic number’. The magic number is the total number of seats required to form a government, or stay in power. It is the half-way mark, plus one. In case of a tie, the Speaker casts the deciding vote.
However, at times, a government’s majority can be questioned. The leader of the party claiming majority has to move a vote of confidence.
If some MLAs remain absent or abstain from voting, the majority is counted on the basis of those present and voting. This effectively reduces the strength of the House and in turn brings down the majority-mark.
The voting process can happen orally, with electronic gadgets or a ballot process.
The governor, or in this case the Lieutenant Governor, can also ask the chief minister to prove his or her majority in the House if the stability of the government comes into question.
There are many possible outcomes. CM V Narayanasamy may resign or seek to dissolve the assembly before the floor test. In this situation, the Lieutenant Governor may call for the President’s Rule until the assembly election.
Or, the Congress government may face the floor test despite not having the numbers. This will lead to the government’s collapse. The Lieutenant Governor is empowered to invite the opposition to form the government for the remainder of the assembly’s tenure, or simply impose President’s Rule.
However, in theory, there remains an outside chance of the Congress government surviving the floor test if it convinces some of the opposition MLAs to cross-vote.