Explained: What is a Floor Test and Why Does it Take Place?
As Maharashtra undergoes a political turmoil amidst calls for floor test and CM’s resignation, here’s all you need to know about why and how a trust vote is conducted
Maharashtra Governor BS Koshyari had recently called for a floor test and asked the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government to demonstrate if they still had majority on the floor of the House.
This trust vote was scheduled to occur on June 30, but Maharashtra Assembly Secretary Rajendra Bhagwat said the Governor had ordered that it won't be convened. This happened because Thackeray resigned on June 29 following the Supreme Court's decision to not put a stay on the floor test.
Since early June, Maharashtra has been witnessing a political crisis as a faction of Shiv Sena MLAs — 39 members — led by Thane MLA Eknath Shinde, had expressed their desire to exit the MVA coalition.
The MVA coalition was formed between the Shiv Sena (55 MLAs), Indian National Congress (44) and the Nationalist Congress Party (53) after the 2019 Assembly elections.
What is a Floor Test?
A floor test is how the Legislature or elected members of the Lower House (both at the state and national level) exercises control over the Executive or the Council of Ministers. Article 175(2) of the Indian Constitution gives the Governor the power to summon the members of the House and call for a floor test to prove whether the incumbent government has the majority in the State Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha). On the central or national level, this power lies with the President.
The floor test, or trust vote, usually takes place when a new government is sworn in. But the Governor can call for it anytime, especially if they doubt that the reigning party does not have a 50% majority in the Vidhan Sabha.
The legislature is convened, and the Speaker presides over the affairs. If it is a newly elected government, the House is presided over by Speaker Pro-tem, chosen by the Governor. The vote is taken through physical voting, or through an electronic ballot.
Article 164 of the Indian constitution states that, "The council of ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the State." And so, if they do not enjoy the Legislature's support, the Executive has to step down.
The governor then invites the leader of the second largest party to prove his/her majority and form a government.
Recent Floor Tests
In 2016, the Harish Rawat-led Congress government in Uttarakhand was challenged when 9 Congress legislators had rebelled, and the Governor had called for a trust vote. After the CM moved a motion seeking a vote of confidence, 33 out of 61 MLAs voted in favour of the incumbent government and they won the floor test.
In the 2018 Karnataka state elections, BJP emerged as the single-largest party and BS Yeddiyurappa was sworn in as CM on May 17, 2018. Two days later, he was compelled to resign after failing to show majority in the Vidhan Sabha following a Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance.
Most recently, in 2020, Kamalnath-led Congress government in Madhya Pradesh faced trouble when 22 MLAs followed Jyotiraditya Scindia and resigned. CM Kamalnath chose not to undergo the Supreme Court mandated floor test, and resigned before vote. Scindia and his group went on to support BJP in staking their claim to form the subsequent government.
What is Happening in Maharashtra?
Koshyari called for a floor test on June 30th, which was challenged by the incumbent Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in the Supreme Court. Their contention was that the Eknath Shinde-led faction of the Shiv Sena already had disqualification notices served by Maharashtra VS Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal. It would be, thus, be unfair if they were still allowed to vote in the floor test.
The Supreme Court on June 29 ruled in favour of the floor test being conducted. Soon after, CM Uddhav Thackeray resigned from his post and his seat in the legislative council, stating that he did not wish to undergo the floor test.
This was the second blow by the SC that the MVA government took in the past few days. On June 27, a Vacation Bench of Justices Surya Kant and JB Pardiwala virtually froze Deputy Speaker Narhari Zirwal's power to disqualify the dissident faction of MLAs led by Eknath Shinde for defection.
The ruling relied on the 2016 Nabam Rabia case – a previous SC ruling where it said a speaker could not disqualify MLAs when a motion seeking his removal was pending before the House. The dissidents were given time till July 12 to respond to the charges.
In an interview with The Leaflet, former Lok Sabha General Secretary P D T Achary said that a notice of No-Confidence against the Deputy Speaker cannot be given when the house is not in session. "Only after the House meets, notices can be given… the constitution itself provides that after giving the notice, there (still) has to be a gap of 14 days after that."
According to ANI, Eknath Shinde and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis have approached the Governor to stake a claim to form a government in Maharashtra, with Shinde as CM-designate.
Maharashtra Assembly Magic Number
Maharashtra Legislative Assembly's strength is 288. After the death of Sena MLA Ramesh Latke last month, the current effective strength is 287. So, the halfway mark falls at 144.
As the dissident faction comprises 39 Sena MLAs, the number of Sena MLAs supporting Thackeray has reduced to 16 from 55. The coalition also has 53 NCP MLAs and 44 Congress MLAs. This adds up to only 113 or 31 short of the halfway mark.
The count of MLAs who are either independent or belong to smaller parties is 29 and about 10 of them support the Shinde group, and another 10 the BJP. The BJP itself has 106 MLAs. If the Shinde-led faction merges or extends support to the BJP, a government can be formed in the state.