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FAQ: All about the trust vote

July 17, 2008 16:19 IST
Last Updated: July 18, 2008 14:36 IST


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With days to go before the United Progressive Alliance seeks a trust vote in the Lok Sabha, a lot of questions persist over how exactly things will unfold on July 22, the day of the vote.

Should the Speaker resign? How do the numbers stack up? Which coalition will succeed in keeping its flock together?

While these questions will be answered only on the floor of the House when the vote actually happens, a lot of things are unclear about the process of the vote itself.

Why did the prime minister volunteer to prove his majority when the President hadn't asked him to do so? Is there anything called a confidence motion at all? And most important, can the government push the nuclear deal through even if it loses the vote?

One of the country's foremost constitutional lawyers and former solicitor-general Harish Salve took time off his busy schedule to demystify the trust vote, exclusively for rediff.com.

What is a trust vote?

A "trust vote" is a process by which the Council of Ministers establishes that it enjoys the confidence of the majority of the House of the People � ie, the Lok Sabha. It is done by the prime minister moving a resolution seeking support for his government.

What are the occasions/situations that necessitate a trust vote?

The fundamental basis on which the President appoints a prime minister is that he and his council of ministers enjoys the confidence of the majority of the House of the People (Lok Sabha). Normally it is only at the commencement of a new Parliament after general elections. However, if for some reasons the support base on which the prime minister was appointed is changed, the President can ask the prime minister to establish that he continues to enjoy a majority in the House of the People.

It is said there is nothing called a 'trust vote' or a 'confidence motion' in the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha. How then did such an exercise come into being?

The Rules of the House are only rules of procedure, they do not -- and cannot -- deal with substantive requirements of the Constitution. A trust vote would generally be by way of a motion (of confidence or no confidence as the case may be). If the motion (for confidence) is carried, it is called a trust vote in common parlance. There are no express provisions on how the Westminster form of democracy is to run -- it is based on convention and good sense. That is how these conventions have come into being.

When the prime minister met the President last week, she did not ask him to seek a trust vote. He offered to prove his majority. What are the situations when the President does not ask the prime minister to prove his majority on the floor of the House?

It is a matter of credit that the prime minister acted in conformity with the high traditions of democracy by offering to obtain an affirmative vote in his favour.

What would have happened if the government had not moved a trust vote after the Left parties withdrew support?

It was for the President to decide on whether to allow the prime minister to continue in office. Again, there are no express provisions, and the President is expected to act in a manner that is consistent with tradition and that furthers democracy. The prime minister holds office during the pleasure of the President -- so the President (if satisfied that a trust vote was called for, but the prime minister was unwilling) could have removed the prime minister from office. In practice, this would not happen -- knowing that recalcitrance can result in being removed from office, the prime minister would normally accede to the President's request to seek a vote of confidence.

What happens if the government loses the trust vote?

The government would be expected to resign. If it refuses, the President has the power to remove the prime minister -- called dismissing the government. In practice, no government would refuse to resign.

How exactly is the motion worded? Will the issue over which support was withdrawn (in this case the nuclear deal) be included?

The motion generally is not issue-based -- it would be that the House has confidence in the government, or something like that. The issues may be discussed in speeches in the house, but would not form part of the text of the motion.

Is it true that there cannot be a no-confidence motion six months after a trust vote is passed? If not, when can the Opposition bring in a no-confidence motion?

Anytime.

Can another motion be brought in using a different issue in the same session, for eg on price rise?

Again, issues are not relevant for the purposes of the text of the motion. A motion can be brought the moment the Opposition knows the government has lost a majority -- not necessarily over an issue.

What is the Speaker's role? Is there a rule or a precedent for the Speaker's role with respect to the current scenario?

He controls proceedings in the House.

And yes, Speakers have always presided over sessions dealing with a trust vote.

If a government loses the trust vote, what will its powers then be? What are its powers when it comes to important legislations and bilateral agreements?

If it loses the trust vote (and resigns) it will be asked to continue as a caretaker government. Theoretically, it has the same powers. Again, as a convention, it would not take any major policy decisions, for Parliament would stand dissolved to pave the way for general elections. It would be expected to refrain from committing to any important legislation or agreements -- although in case of emergent need it does have the power to promulgate ordinances.

Harish Salve spoke to Special Corresondent Krishnakumar






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