UPA’s clear victory makes president’s job easier

May 16th, 2009 - 10:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil By Manish Chand
New Delhi, May 16 (IANS) It was projected to be President Pratibha Patil’s toughest test since she assumed office 22 months ago. But a clear verdict in favour of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has spared her much anxiety and made her job a lot easier.

Patil is now expected to call the Congress, the single largest party, which won 200 seats, to form the next government. The Congress, which also heads the UPA, has emerged as the largest pre-poll alliance, winning 257 seats. The Congress-led UPA is now falling short of barely 12-15 seats from the 272 half-way mark in parliament.

The Congress-led UPA is nearly 100 seats ahead of its nearest rival, the BJP-led NDA.

“The arithmetic is quite clear. It has made her job a lot easier,” Rajeev Dhavan, a constitutional expert, told IANS.

The president should now seek assurance from the UPA or seek letter of support from the party or individual MPs who will support the government to get a simple majority in the 543-member parliament, Dhavan said.

In a situation like this, even if there is no letter of support, she can still ask the Congress and its UPA allies to form the next government. She need not insist on a vote of confidence,” Dhavan said.

The president met Ashok Desai, a constitutional expert and also a former attorney general of India, Monday evening to seek his advice on constitutional niceties about the formation of the next government, Archana Dutta, officer on special duty in the president’s office, told IANS.

She is also expected to meet constitutional experts like Soli Sorabjee and Fali S. Nariman over the next couple of days. These meetings were sought in the backdrop of what was projected to be a hung parliament. But these meetings may not be necessary now in view of an unambigious verdict in favour of the Congress-led UPA.

“She was mentally prepared for any situation. But the pciture is quite clear now. She is looking more relaxed now,” a close aide to the president , who did not wish to be named, said.

It is up to the president to call the single largest party or the largest pre-poll alliance to form the government, said senior advocate and constitutional expert Anil Dewan.

The president’s choice will depend on which party or alliance, in her view, can provide a stable government to the country, Dewan 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,” said K.K. Venugopal, another leading constitutional expert and lawyer,

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,” said Venugopal.

The constitution is silent on the options open before the president in case of a hung parliament. There are only precedents and conventions to go by.

“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,” said Dewan.

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