The Tamil Nadu Assembly will witness a trust vote for the first time in 28 years on Saturday when Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami moves a resolution for a vote of confidence. As the week has progressed, the maths isn’t looking quite so neat for the Salem politician.
Palaniswami was sworn in as Tamil Nadu’s 13th chief minister on Thursday after two weeks of intense infighting in the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Governor Vidyasagar Rao had given Palaniswami 15 days to prove his majority in the 233-member Assembly. But fearing dissent and defections, Palaniswami decided to get done with the floor test on Saturday.
Winning the confidence motion may not be as easy as Palanaswami hoped, especially since the Opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Congress decided on Friday to vote against the government.
The state has seen a fortnight of high drama. The uncertainty was kicked off on February 5, with the resignation of Chief Minister O Panneerselvam. He had taken office two months before, hours after J Jayalalithaa’s death on December 5. Panneerselvam said he was quitting to allow Jayalalithaa’s close aide, VK Sasikala, to take his place. But merely two days after he had resigned from office, he revolted against Sasikala, claiming that he had been forced to quit against his wishes.
On Tuesday, even before the governor could invite Sasikala to stake her claim to the chief minister’s office, she was convicted by the Supreme Court in a long-pending disproportionate assets case and sentenced to four years in jail.
Before heading to the Bengaluru jail on Wednesday, however, Sasikala quickly got her nominee Palaniswami elected as the new legislative party leader.
To ensure that its flock does not stray to Panneerselvam’s camp, the Sasikala faction decided to sequester its legislators in the Golden Bay Resorts in Kancheepuram till the confidence vote is due. These MLAs have been staying at the resort since February 9.
For the last two days, the Opposition DMK party had been suggesting that it might abstain from the vote of confidence. As late as Wednesday, the party working president MK Stalin said that DMK legislators would not support either of the two AIADMK factions.
But things changed quickly on Friday morning. DMK insiders said there was a view that Palaniswami may not have the numbers to win the trust vote as a few legislators who had given him their letters of support did not attend his swearing-in ceremony on Thursday.
According to Assembly rules, the government only needs a simple majority to win a confidence vote. This means it only needs the backing of half the number of legislators present and voting during the motion.
A DMK legislator said that when R Nataraj, the MLA from Mylapore constituency in Chennai, declared on Friday morning that he would vote against Palaniswami, it had become clear that the numbers had not settled down. As a consequence, DMK leader Stalin decided that his party should not make it easy for Palaniswami by abstaining from the vote.
The Assembly has 233 MLAs. One seat fell vacant after the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on December 5. If the DMK and its allies abstain, the house strength will be down by 98.
“If we abstain, the total strength excluding the speaker would be 134,” said a DMK lawmaker from south Tamil Nadu. “Palaniswami will need only 67 votes to win.”
With the DMK, Congress and Indian Union Muslim deciding to vote against the government, Panneerselvam now has a better chance of defeating Palaniswami.
Following Nataraj’s defection, he now has 11 legislators on his side. Palaniswami has claimed the support of 123 members while he needs the backing of 116 legislators to save the regime. All it would take for Panneerselvam to topple the government is the support of eight more MLAs.
This was why Panneerselvam made an emotional appeal on Friday night, asking AIADMK lawmakers to vote according to their conscience and ensure that the party and government do not fall into the hands of Sasikala’s family.