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Friday, May 18, 2018

Three-Time BJP MLA KG Bopaiah Appointed Pro Tem Speaker for Karnataka Floor Test. What are His Powers?

Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala has appointed three-time BJP MLA KG Bopaiah as the pro tem speaker of the assembly, departing from the convention of appointing the senior-most MLA.

According to the seniority norm, eight-time Congress MLA from Haliyal, RV Deshpande, should have been made the pro tem speaker. The appointment assumes great significance as the pro tem speaker will play a crucial role in the floor test scheduled for 4pm on Saturday May 19,2018

As per the order of the Supreme Court on Friday, since the pro tem speaker would conduct the floor test, he would also exercise powers like a regular speaker, and also administer oath to all the newly elected MLAs. In theory, his powers could also help the ruling party stay in power and help overcome the hurdles of anti-defection law.

According to the Supreme Court, the pro-tem speaker will also take a call on whether the trust vote should be held through a voice vote or ballot.

When a new assembly is elected, but the vote for the speaker or deputy speaker has not taken place, a pro-tem speaker is appointed. A pro-tem speaker is chosen with the agreement of the members of the legislative assembly so that activities of the assembly can carry on unhindered.

Constitutional expert, PDT Achary, suggested that there is “nothing constitutionally wrong in a pro tem speaker conducting a floor test”, but he added a caveat that he or she “can only perform the functions of a regular speaker in case the house is not able to elect one”.

In the past, just after the Narendra Modi government had come to power in 2014, it had conveyed its recommendation to President Pranab Mukherjee to appoint Congress leader Kamal Nath, who was the senior most member of the Lower House, as Pro tem Speaker.

Even after the 2009 general elections, President Pratibha Patil had appointed Manikrao Gavit, the senior-most member of the new Lok Sabha, as its Pro tem speaker.

However, this time, no reason has been ascribed for departing from the said convention.

Since Yeddyurappa now has a speaker from his own party, BJP may succeed in making some opposition MLAs abstain or defect and come to BJP’s side in an attempt to narrow the gap and can get away as the Speaker has reasonable discretion in dealing with complaints under the anti-defection law.

The enormity of the discretionary powers held by the speaker is exemplified by the act of the speaker of the outgoing Karnataka Assembly KB Koliwad who did not disqualify seven legislators from the JDS who cross-voted in favour of the Congress candidate in a Rajya Sabha poll.

There have been past instances where MLAs have voted against the whip but the Speaker has postponed the deliverance of an immediate ruling. The speaker is also not limited by any time limitation and his delayed decision may also allow the government to remain in power till the speaker takes a call.

A similar thing had happened in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh too where the speaker did not given an immediate ruling but only deferred it to a later date without giving a definite ruling.

The current strength of the House is 222 and the magic number is 112. The Congress-JD(S) claim that together they have the support of 116 MLAs. The BJP is eight short with 104 MLAs.

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