Post-poll, all eyes will be on president

May 10th, 2009 - 3:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil By Manish Chand
New Delhi, May 10 (IANS) With the elections widely expected to lead to a hung parliament, all eyes will be on President Pratibha Patil who will decide who to invite to form a government after the votes get counted May 16.

“The president will have a most crucial role in such a fluid situation,” senior advocate and constitutional expert Anil Dewan told IANS.

K.K. Venugopal, another leading constitutional expert and lawyer, said: “The safest and most prudent rule for the president will be to first invite either the single largest party, though a minority, or a pre-poll alliance with the largest number of MPs to form the government.”

According to convention, the president will then set a time for the leader of the single largest party or pre-poll alliance to prove its majority on the floor of the house.

If this option does not work out, the leader of the second-largest party or alliance will be invited to form the government. If the second largest party or pre-poll alliance is not able to form a stable government, then the president will have no choice but to dissolve the house and ask for fresh elections.

“The president has to take care to act in such a manner that her subjective decisions will not be open to attack or criticism. Basically, she should act in an impartial manner and should be seen to be doing so,” Venugopal told IANS.

According to Dewan, the key question the president has to ask is who will form a stable government.

“For that purpose, the pre-poll alliance with the largest number of MPs should be given the first chance, subject to an overwhelming majority by a single party.”

Imagine a scenario in which the Congress at 160 seats emerges as the single largest party, but its allies don’t bring a substantial number of MPs to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Then it may not be invited to form the government.

The president may then decide to call the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), if it is numerically superior to the UPA by a wide margin, to form the government.

The confusion is compounded this time as both the Congress and the BJP are actively courting parties to expand their coalitions.

Pre-poll alliances are traditionally understood to have a common manifesto and comprise a group of like-minded parties which either have a common candidate or do not campaign against each other.

But neither the NDA nor the UPA has come out with a common manifesto. Moreover, the UPA may not qualify as a pre-poll alliance as many of its constituents are pitted against one another in different states.

The focus, therefore, will be on the relative strengths of the post-poll alliances that the BJP, the Congress and the Third Front are able to cobble together.

In the end, it will all depend on the president for whom the supreme criterion will be to see which party or alliance can provide a stable government to the country.

“Minority governments are also legitimate. The question of a government having legitimacy has to be settled only on the floor of the house, only through a no-confidence motion, if necessary,” said Subhash C. Kashyap, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha and the author of a six-volume “History of Parliament”.

The five-phase elections to the 545-member Lok Sabha concludes May 13 and the votes will be counted May 16.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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