Note Submitted By Harkishan Singh Surjeet, General Secretary of the CPI(M)
In the recent period the political situation in the country has led to the increasing possibility of coalition governments both at the Centre and in the States. With no single party getting a majority in the 1989, 1991 and 1996 general elections to the Lok Sabha, attention has been focussed on the modalities for calling upon the leader of a party or combination who can form a government in a situation where there is no clear majority for a single party or combination of parties.
It is in this context that the role of the President at the Central level and the Governors in the states assumes importance. Under the Constitution the President and the Governor is entrusted with the responsibility of forming a council of ministers at the Central and State level respectively. This raises a number of issues regarding the exercise of this power to form the Council of Ministers and the discretion and the scope of the powers entailed in exercising of this decision.
After the elections to the Lok Sabha, if the results show that there is no single party, or, a combination of parties which fought the elections together, in a position to command a majority in the newly elected house, then the President should ascertain :
a. Whether any post-election combination of parties which stakes claim to form the government is in a position to command a majority.
b. If no such combination stakes its claim, or, can muster the strength necessary for a majority in the House, then the President should call the leader of the single largest party to form the government.
c. The leader so appointed to hold the post of Prime Minister should be asked to prove his strength on the floor of the House within a period of one week. A long time should not be given to prevent horse-trading and unscrupulous defections and counter-defections.
In the case of the states, after the elections to the state legislatures, if a situation arises where no single party or a combination (forged before the elections) is able to get a majority in the House, the Governor should proceed as follows :
a. The Governor should ascertain if there is any basis for the claim made by a combination of parties that they can command a majority in the House. If so, the leader of this combination can be called to form the government.
b. If the major parties represented in the House who constitute a majority of the total strength give in writing to the Governor that they are opposed to the leader of the largest single party being called to form the government, then the Governor need not call that leader to form the government, as it will be clear that he does not command a majority.
c. The Governor may call the leader of the largest single party/bloc in a situation where the other parties do not give in writing that they will oppose the formation of such a government.
d. Here again in all such cases where there is no clear majority for the leader of the Party or combination after being sworn in, the Governor should ensure that the test of strength in the assembly takes place within a week.
When a situation arises where the ruling party/combination has lost its majority in the House due to splits in parties or certain parties withdrawing support then the President/Governor should within a short space of time, (say three days), convene the Lok Sabha/assembly to allow the leader of the House to test the strength on the floor of the House. All claims and counter-claims in such a situation should be tested on the floor of the House.
June 2, 1997
Points Made in the Presentation of Prakash Karat
"The Role of the Constitutional Head when following elections when no party or combination of parties appears to have secured a majority".
1. In the development of parliamentary democracy in the country, the formation of coalition governments at the central and state levels marks a creative and innovative process whereby the diversity and aspirations of the people are being expressed. The CPI(M) does not see this as a negative phenomenon. What is required is for the political system, the Constitutional heads and the political parties to understand this process of evolution to a federal polity and respond to it meaningfully.
2. After the elections when no party or combination which fought the elections together has a majority, it is not binding that the leader of the largest single party be called to form the government. For instance if the government in office which had a majority goes to the polls and loses its majority but still remains the largest single party, it is contrary to democratic norms to call the leader of that party again to form the government. The verdict of the people was a defeat for the ruling party. In such a situation, the next largest party or combination should be allowed to stake its claim.
3. The Sarkaria Commission has set out in order of priority, options for the Governor about whom to call when there is no majority. While this can be a basis for discussion, the order of priority requires amendments. If there is a post-electoral combination of parties which commands a majority in the House, its leader should be called overriding the claim of the leader of the largest single party/combination which has no majority.
4. Responding to other issues raised in the President's speech the following points were made :
(i) If the ruling party loses elections the Prime Minister/Chief Minister should immediately resign as soon as the results are out. There should be no delay in this regard.
(ii) After the composition of the new House is clear, it is better for the constitutional head to wait for the leader of some party or combination of parties to stake claim to form the government. After this the President/Governor can hold consultations, if necessary, with parties to get a clear picture. In the interim period, the caretaker government should not take any major or new policy decisions or make major appointments.
(iii) The leader invited to form the government when there is no clear majority in the House for any party/combination should be told to seek a vote of confidence in the House. The period stipulated for doing so should be within a week. In this period, the government should not take any major policy decisions or make major appointments.
(v) Till the vote of confidence is taken and the government secures it, the Governor's address setting out the policies of the new government should not be undertaken. It should be done after the vote of confidence.
(vi) When support is withdrawn to the government and its majority in the house is in question, vote of confidence must be sought by the council of ministers from the House.
(vii) Regarding the steps to be taken to safeguard and ensure the impartiality of the Constitutional head, this question is related to the appointment and role of Governors. This matter has to be discussed separately. There is also the question of the use of Article 356. This matter is being taken up by the Inter-State Council and a panel constituted by it.