Role of Governor in Karnataka Hung Assembly


The Karnataka Assembly elections in May 2018 produced an inconclusive verdict as no single party getting a simple majority to form the government. However, the BJP won 104 of the 222 constituencies and emerged as a single largest party. The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) won 78 and 37 seats respectively. 
With the Governor, Vajubhai Vala , asking the largest party to form government, administering oath to a chief minister and giving 15 days to prove majority on the floor of the house, the role of the Governor has come into focus. The question is –
‘Whether the single largest party or the leader claiming majority with post-poll alliance should be invited to form the new government.’

It also triggered an old debate about the role of the Governor in government formation when there is a hung assembly.

As a matter of convention, the Governor has to first invite the single largest party to form the government. But the decision has to be an “informed one” and “on sound basis,” with a view to provide a stable government.

Constitutional Provisions

Article 164 of the Constitution says: “The Chief Minister shall be appointed by the Governor and the other ministers shall be appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister, and the ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor.”

Article 164(2) of the Constitution says that the Council of Ministers must be collectively responsible to the House.
Sarkaria Commission recommendations 
The constitutional convention of inviting the single largest party in the case of a fractured mandate has been outlined by the Sarkaria Commission recommendations (1988), which were affirmed by a Constitution Bench of the SC in Rameshwar Prasad v Union of India in 2005.

The Commission report specifically dealt with the situation where no single party obtained absolute majority. It provided the order of preference the Governor should follow in selecting a Chief Minister in such a fluid situation: (1) An alliance of parties that was formed prior to the elections. (2) The single largest party staking a claim to form the government with the support of others, including independents. (3) A post-electoral coalition of parties, with all the partners in the coalition joining the government. (4) A post-electoral alliance of parties, with some of the parties in the alliance forming a government and the remaining parties, including independents, supporting the government from outside.

It is clear that the leader of the party which has an absolute majority in the Assembly should be called upon by the Governor to form a government. However, if there is a fractured mandate, then the Commission recommends an elaborate step-by-step approach and has further emphasised that the Governor should select a leader who, in his/her judgement, is most likely to command a majority in the Assembly.
M M Punchhi Commission 

Later, the M M Punchhi Commission (2010) also elaborated that the governor should follow “constitutional conventions” in a case of a hung Assembly. Further, in a case of a Hung Assembly, the Punchhi Commission prescribed:

1. The party or alliances which get the widest support in the Legislative Assembly should be called upon to form the government.

2. If there is a pre-poll coalition or alliance, it should be treated as one political party. And in case, such coalition gets a majority, the leader of such alliances shall be called by the Governor to form the government.

3. In case no pre-poll coalition or party has a clear majority, the governor should select the Chief Minister in the order of priorities is the same as mentioned above by the Sarkaria Commission.

       Three times Governor allowed second largest party to form government
(i) Goa
In case of the Goa, where the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 17 MLAs in the 40-Chair House, Governor Mridula Sinha opted to invite the BJP to form the government. The party had emerged as the second largest party with 13 seats in its kitty in 2017 Assembly polls.
The Congress had then moved the Supreme Court contesting Sinha’s decision. The apex court, however, rejected the Congress’ arguments that the Governor could not have arrived to her satisfaction without consulting the leader of the single largest party. The Congress said that since an alliance between the BJP and other regional parties was not chalked out before the elections, the Governor should have asked the single largest party if it is in a situation to form the government. To this, the court had ruled that in such a situation the Governor has discretionary powers and noted that the party had not submitted the numbers before the Governor.

(ii) Manipur
In Manipur the Congress emerged as the single largest party in 60-member Assembly. While the Congress had won 28 seats, the BJP had got 21. Governor Nejma Heptulla invited the BJP to form the government.

(iii) Meghalaya
In Meghalaya, the BJP was ranked fifth in terms of number. The party had won just two seats in 60-member House. The party, however, managed to forge an alliance with regional parties to form the government with support of 34 MLAs. The Congress was the single largest party in the state with 21 MLAs.
The situation in Karnataka pits the claim of the single largest minority against a post-poll combination equipped with a clear majority. Governor Vajubhai Vala has the discretion to invite any leader to form the government. He invited the leader of single largest party. There was no wrong in it, but 15 days time to prove majority was long enough to trigger horse trading.
The Supreme Court ordered a floor test in the Karnataka Assembly at 4 pm on May 19, 2018 reducing the 15-day window given by the governor to just 2 days to BJP's chief minister BS Yeddyurappa to prove majority.

"Let the House decide and the best course would be floor test," a three-judge bench of the apex court said.
The Court said, since the elected Members of Legislative Assembly are yet to take oath as specified in Schedule III of the Constitution and the Speaker is also yet to be elected, we are of the view that the following procedure be followed for conducting the Floor Test:
A). Pro-tem Speaker shall be appointed for the aforesaid purpose
B). All the elected members shall take oath on Saturday(19.05.2018) and this exercise shall be completed before 04.00 pm
C) The Pro-tem Speaker shall conduct the Floor Test on 19.05.2018 at 04.00 pm in order to ascertain the majority.
D) Adequate and sufficient security arrangements shall be made and Director General of Police, State of Karnataka will himself supervise the said arrangements so that there is no lapse on this count whatsoever.
The apex court also directed the Karnataka government and the governor not to nominate any MLA from the Anglo-Indian community to participate in the floor test.
However,B.S. Yeddyurappa chose not to subject himself to a floor test in the Karnataka assembly and instead announced his resignation.

Thursday, 17th May 2018, 07:03:39 PM

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