LS Elections: What Happens When No Party Gets the Magical Number?

There is much speculation about elections resulting in a hung parliament. But, what is a hung parliament? 

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Explainers
6 min read
The possibility of a hung Parliament looms large and very real. 
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Snapshot

With the 2019 Lok Sabha elections officially kicking off, the all-important questions keep surfacing – who will form the next government? Which party will lead the nation? Will the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) return to power?

The campaigning has heated up, the guessing game is on, and several surveys are trying to predict the results as counting day – 23 May – nears.

A possibility that has not been ruled out – and is very real – is that of a hung Parliament. Earlier in January, a report by India Today, based on the Mood of the Nation poll, showed that this is a possible outcome, one which will throw the country into a tizzy. The latest predictions are awaited.

So, what is a hung Parliament, and how will it affect the country’s political atmosphere?

LS Elections: What Happens When No Party Gets the Magical Number?

  1. 1. What is A Hung Parliament?

    The term ‘hung Parliament’ means a Parliament where no party or a coalition that is already in existence is able to gain a simple majority after elections. This means that no political party wins enough seats to secure an overall majority to form the government.

    In India, a majority requires a party to win more than 50 percent of seats in Lok Sabha. The total number of seats in the Lower House is 543, with two nominated members, making it 545. So, the ruling party will need to win 50 percent of 543, which is 272, in order to establish a majority in the House.

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  2. 2. What Happens When There is a Hung Parliament?

    While a majority may still be gained by forming a coalition government or by adding new members to an existing coalition, the other possibility is that a minority government is formed, where the party that has most members is allowed to form the government, provided it has outside support from minor parties and independent legislators. The last and most extreme solution is a re-election.

    THE PRESIDENT’S ROLE IN HUNG PARLIAMENT

    Once it is clear that there is a hung Parliament, the President takes charge.

    The President invites the leader of the largest single party in the house to form the government. If this is not possible, then the leader of the largest pre-poll alliance is invited to form the government. If even this is not an option, the last resort is that the leader of the largest post-poll alliance is called by the President to form the government, according to the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations.

    However, it could happen that the leader of the single largest party may be ruled out if it is clear that there would be no support for him from other parties. In that case, the President needs to use his judgement as to who would be able to form and maintain a stable government.

    The onus is on the President to use his discretion to assess the situation, hold consultations and finally invite a leader who will be capable.

    The President then calls for a vote of confidence on the floor of the House at the earliest possible opportunity. If the party or the coalition can prove majority, they form the government.

    However, after the formation of government, if it does not function as expected and there are many rifts and differences, the Parliament is dissolved and fresh elections are held.

    In the instance of a hung Parliament, President’s rule may be imposed on the country in case no party or coalition seems to be able to form a stable government. However, this can be done for a maximum of six months, after which fresh elections need to be held.

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  3. 3. Times When India Witnessed A Hung Parliament

    THE 9TH LOK SABHA

    The first time that India saw a hung Parliament was at the time of the ninth Lok Sabha, in 1989. Struggling with several controversies, the Congress lost 207 seats, winning only 197, while the Janata Dal won 143 seats. The BJP, meanwhile, making impressive gains, won 85 out of 529 seats. The Janata Dal formed the National Front government with support from the BJP and the Left parties, with Vishwanath Pratap Singh becoming the prime minister.

    However, the then prime mininster VP Singh’s rival in the Janata Dal Chandra Shekhar broke away in 1990 and formed the Samajwadi Janata Party, forcing him to step down. Chandra Shekhar then became the next prime minister in 1990, with the support of the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi. However, he was prime minister only from 10 November 1990 till 21 June 1991, before fresh elections were held for the 10th Lok Sabha.

    THE 10TH LOK SABHA

    Once again, there was a hung House, with no party getting a majority. The Congress won 232 seats, emerging as the single largest party while the BJP won 120 seats out of 521 seats. A stable minority government was formed, with PV Narasimha Rao at the helm, which stayed its full term of five years.

    THE 11TH LOK SABHA

    In 1996 again India experienced a hung Parliament. In this election, neither of the two main parties – BJP and Indian National Congress – gained a majority. The BJP won 161 seats, the Congress 140 and the Janata Dal 46, with the BJP emerging as the single largest party in the House.

    As per the norm, the President invited the BJP to form the government. The BJP attempted a coalition government but it did not last and AB Vajpayee resigned from the post of the PM.

    After this, the ‘United Front’ formed by the Janata Dal and other smaller parties came into existence. The Congress, while not a part of this alliance, provided its support from outside. HD Deve Gowda became the PM. However, he was only able to hold onto the position for 18 months before having to make way for IK Gujral, the third person to hold the position in the space of just two years.

    THE 12TH LOK SABHA

    In 1998, there was a hung Parliament. While no party got a majority, BJP emerged as the single largest party with 182 seats out of 543, while the Congress won 141. The other regional parties won 101 seats. This led to the BJP forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with other regional parties. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister for the second time, but his government was not able to hold too long. In 1999, Vajpayee had to resign, just 13 months into his term, after AIADMK withdrew support.

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  4. 4. A Hung Parliament Again?

    According to the India Today Group-Karvy Insights biannual Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey, in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the BJP may not be capable of winning a majority by itself as it had done in 2014. The survey was conducted between 28 December 2018 and 8 January 2019. Remember, this was before the deadly attack in Pulwama which killed 40 CRPF jawans, bringing national security as an election issue to the fore.

    It also said that even the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may not be able to cross the 272-mark that is required to command an absolute majority in the House. According to the survey, a likely scenario would be a hung Parliament, with no party gaining the majority required to form the government. This is the first time that a MOTN poll is predicting that the NDA would not cross the majority mark since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.

    According to the poll, if elections were held now, the NDA tally would fall nearly 100 seats, winning only 237 seats as opposed to the 336 seats it won 2014. This would leave them 35 seats short of a majority. In such a situation, the NDA, comprising multiple parties, would need to search for external support to form the government.

    Since the possibility of a hung Parliament is grounded in reality, the intriguing question for citizens is – who would lead the government?

    According to the MOTN survey, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will also not be able to form the government on its own. In such a case, an alternative would be the Third Front — non-Congress, non-BJP parties forming a united front. According to economist and journalist Swaminathan Aiyar, one scenario could be that the other parties could support a Congress-led government or form a Third Front government with Congress support.

    A Times Now-VMR poll, conducted on the ground between 14 January and 25 January predicted a hung House. According to the national 'Tracker Poll' aired by Times Now on 30 January, if the elections were to be held now, the result would be a hung Parliament with the NDA ahead of the UPA, but short of a majority by 20 seats, reported The Economic Times.

    In another article in The Economic Times, Aiyar writes that in a hung Parliament, some analysts think that regional parties will offer to support the BJP provided someone other than Modi leads the party, such as Nitin Gadkari. However, Aiyar does not see the possibility of that happening, writing that the BJP would rather be the Opposition and watch an unstable Third Front coalition collapse after a year or two.

    (With inputs from The Times of India, India Today, The Economic Times.)

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    Expand

What is A Hung Parliament?

The term ‘hung Parliament’ means a Parliament where no party or a coalition that is already in existence is able to gain a simple majority after elections. This means that no political party wins enough seats to secure an overall majority to form the government.

In India, a majority requires a party to win more than 50 percent of seats in Lok Sabha. The total number of seats in the Lower House is 543, with two nominated members, making it 545. So, the ruling party will need to win 50 percent of 543, which is 272, in order to establish a majority in the House.

What Happens When There is a Hung Parliament?

While a majority may still be gained by forming a coalition government or by adding new members to an existing coalition, the other possibility is that a minority government is formed, where the party that has most members is allowed to form the government, provided it has outside support from minor parties and independent legislators. The last and most extreme solution is a re-election.

THE PRESIDENT’S ROLE IN HUNG PARLIAMENT

Once it is clear that there is a hung Parliament, the President takes charge.

The President invites the leader of the largest single party in the house to form the government. If this is not possible, then the leader of the largest pre-poll alliance is invited to form the government. If even this is not an option, the last resort is that the leader of the largest post-poll alliance is called by the President to form the government, according to the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations.

However, it could happen that the leader of the single largest party may be ruled out if it is clear that there would be no support for him from other parties. In that case, the President needs to use his judgement as to who would be able to form and maintain a stable government.

The onus is on the President to use his discretion to assess the situation, hold consultations and finally invite a leader who will be capable.

The President then calls for a vote of confidence on the floor of the House at the earliest possible opportunity. If the party or the coalition can prove majority, they form the government.

However, after the formation of government, if it does not function as expected and there are many rifts and differences, the Parliament is dissolved and fresh elections are held.

In the instance of a hung Parliament, President’s rule may be imposed on the country in case no party or coalition seems to be able to form a stable government. However, this can be done for a maximum of six months, after which fresh elections need to be held.

Times When India Witnessed A Hung Parliament

THE 9TH LOK SABHA

The first time that India saw a hung Parliament was at the time of the ninth Lok Sabha, in 1989. Struggling with several controversies, the Congress lost 207 seats, winning only 197, while the Janata Dal won 143 seats. The BJP, meanwhile, making impressive gains, won 85 out of 529 seats. The Janata Dal formed the National Front government with support from the BJP and the Left parties, with Vishwanath Pratap Singh becoming the prime minister.

However, the then prime mininster VP Singh’s rival in the Janata Dal Chandra Shekhar broke away in 1990 and formed the Samajwadi Janata Party, forcing him to step down. Chandra Shekhar then became the next prime minister in 1990, with the support of the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi. However, he was prime minister only from 10 November 1990 till 21 June 1991, before fresh elections were held for the 10th Lok Sabha.

THE 10TH LOK SABHA

Once again, there was a hung House, with no party getting a majority. The Congress won 232 seats, emerging as the single largest party while the BJP won 120 seats out of 521 seats. A stable minority government was formed, with PV Narasimha Rao at the helm, which stayed its full term of five years.

THE 11TH LOK SABHA

In 1996 again India experienced a hung Parliament. In this election, neither of the two main parties – BJP and Indian National Congress – gained a majority. The BJP won 161 seats, the Congress 140 and the Janata Dal 46, with the BJP emerging as the single largest party in the House.

As per the norm, the President invited the BJP to form the government. The BJP attempted a coalition government but it did not last and AB Vajpayee resigned from the post of the PM.

After this, the ‘United Front’ formed by the Janata Dal and other smaller parties came into existence. The Congress, while not a part of this alliance, provided its support from outside. HD Deve Gowda became the PM. However, he was only able to hold onto the position for 18 months before having to make way for IK Gujral, the third person to hold the position in the space of just two years.

THE 12TH LOK SABHA

In 1998, there was a hung Parliament. While no party got a majority, BJP emerged as the single largest party with 182 seats out of 543, while the Congress won 141. The other regional parties won 101 seats. This led to the BJP forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with other regional parties. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister for the second time, but his government was not able to hold too long. In 1999, Vajpayee had to resign, just 13 months into his term, after AIADMK withdrew support.

A Hung Parliament Again?

According to the India Today Group-Karvy Insights biannual Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey, in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the BJP may not be capable of winning a majority by itself as it had done in 2014. The survey was conducted between 28 December 2018 and 8 January 2019. Remember, this was before the deadly attack in Pulwama which killed 40 CRPF jawans, bringing national security as an election issue to the fore.

It also said that even the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) may not be able to cross the 272-mark that is required to command an absolute majority in the House. According to the survey, a likely scenario would be a hung Parliament, with no party gaining the majority required to form the government. This is the first time that a MOTN poll is predicting that the NDA would not cross the majority mark since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.

According to the poll, if elections were held now, the NDA tally would fall nearly 100 seats, winning only 237 seats as opposed to the 336 seats it won 2014. This would leave them 35 seats short of a majority. In such a situation, the NDA, comprising multiple parties, would need to search for external support to form the government.

Since the possibility of a hung Parliament is grounded in reality, the intriguing question for citizens is – who would lead the government?

According to the MOTN survey, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will also not be able to form the government on its own. In such a case, an alternative would be the Third Front — non-Congress, non-BJP parties forming a united front. According to economist and journalist Swaminathan Aiyar, one scenario could be that the other parties could support a Congress-led government or form a Third Front government with Congress support.

A Times Now-VMR poll, conducted on the ground between 14 January and 25 January predicted a hung House. According to the national 'Tracker Poll' aired by Times Now on 30 January, if the elections were to be held now, the result would be a hung Parliament with the NDA ahead of the UPA, but short of a majority by 20 seats, reported The Economic Times.

In another article in The Economic Times, Aiyar writes that in a hung Parliament, some analysts think that regional parties will offer to support the BJP provided someone other than Modi leads the party, such as Nitin Gadkari. However, Aiyar does not see the possibility of that happening, writing that the BJP would rather be the Opposition and watch an unstable Third Front coalition collapse after a year or two.

(With inputs from The Times of India, India Today, The Economic Times.)

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