The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in Manipur on Monday won the vote of confidence moved by Chief Minister N Biren Singh during the special one-day session of the Assembly, PTI reported.

However, proceedings were shrouded in controversy with allegations that the rules of parliamentary procedure were not followed during the vote – raising doubts about whether the government does truly enjoy the support of the state assembly.

Can a no-confidence motion be ignored?

For one, the speaker’s move to allow a government’s trust motion when there was already a no-confidence motion pending, filed by the Congress, ignores parliamentary procedure. On July 28, the Congress had submitted a motion of no confidence against the state government

As per the rules, a no-confidence motion takes precedence over any other business of the house. “A no-confidence motion can not be ignored,” explained PDT Acharya, former Secretary General of the Lok Sabha. “Unlike other motions, a speaker has no say in admitting or not admitting a no-confidence motion. It is admitted by the House itself.”

What is a voice vote?

The second point of controversy involved the fact that the speaker had assessed that the government enjoyed the support of the house using the device of a voice vote rather than a division.

The Congress claims that it opposed the speaker’s move to conduct a voice vote and asked for a “division” – a request that was overruled.

Both the concept of a voice vote as well as a division have been borrowed from the Parliament of the United Kingdom and were already in use in legislatures in British India.

A voice vote involves the speaker putting a question to the house and then asking the house to put forward its opinion in the forms of ayes (yes) or noes. Based on a rough measure of which side was louder, the speaker decides if the motion was passed or fell through.

The obvious advantage of a voice vote is that it is quick. The apparent disadvantage is that it is inaccurate, given that the speakers decides what the opinion of the house is based on which side is louder. A literal shouting match is not the ideal way to conduct any serious business other than in cases where voting is so one sided, it is basically a formality.

What is a division – and why wasn’t it done in Manipur?

Due to this, parliamentary procedure requires that if a voice vote is challenged by any member, the speaker must ask for a division. This once involved the physical separation of legislators and then a counting of heads – a procedure still followed in the UK. But nowadays in India, this is achieved by getting MPs and MLAs to vote electronically.

The advantage of a division, of course, is that it tells the public exactly what the vote count is. Moreover, it lets constituents know how their MP or MLA voted.

The Congress claims that it asked a division but the request was turned down by the speaker. “If the Congress had demanded a division, it is the speaker’s duty to concede it,” said Acharya.

The Lok Sabha’s General Rules of Procedure states: “If the opinion so declared [for a voice vote] is again challenged, the Speaker shall direct that the votes be recorded either by operating the automatic vote recorder or by using ‘Aye’ and ‘No’ Slips in the House or by the Members going into the Lobbies.”

Given how inaccurate voice votes are, they are rarely if ever used for something as critical as when the house decides to show it support – or lack thereof – in the government. Manipur’s confidence motion on Monday might be the first time a voice vote has been used in this way in Indian history.