The National Assembly

The National Assembly

Under the Constitution, legislative responsibilities theoretically belong to a unicameral National Assembly (Assemblé Nationale). In 1985 it was enlarged from 147 to 175 members, who were known as deputies (députés). Qualifications for candidates to the Assembly were established by the government. Like the president, deputies were elected by universal suffrage within a constituency for five-year terms. Until 1980, Houphouët-Boigny had handpicked the deputies, who were automatically elected to the assembly as part of a single slate. Consequently, the National Assembly was a passive body that almost automatically consented to executive instructions. The assembly did have power to delay legislation by means of extended debate. Deputies, however, rarely challenged the president's policy decisions, and little debate occurred. Starting with the 1980 election, Houphouët-Boigny opened the process so that any qualified citizen could be a candidate. Moreover, the constitutional amendment of October 1985 stipulating that the president of the National Assembly would become interim president of the republic, should the presidency be vacated, conferred greater importance on the workings of the assembly.

Pursuant to the Constitution, each legislative term lasted five years, during which the National Assembly sat for two sessions per year. The first term began on the last Wednesday in April and lasted no more than three months. The second opened on the first Wednesday of October and ended on the third Friday in December. The president or a majority of the deputies could request an extraordinary session to consider a specific issue. Meetings of the assembly were open unless otherwise requested by the president or one-third of the deputies.

The National Assembly elected its own president, who served for the duration of the legislative term. In 1988 this position was second only to the president of the republic in the table of precedence. It was held by Henri Konan Bedié for the 1985-90 term. The assembly president's staff was also elected by the assembly. A member of this staff would preside over the National Assembly whenever the president of the assembly was not present.

Legislation was proposed within three standing committees: the Committee for General and Institutional Affairs, which covered interior matters, the civil service, information, national defense, foreign affairs, and justice; the Committee for Economic and Financial Affairs, which covered financial and economic affairs, planning, land, public works, mines, transportation, postal service and telecommunications; and the Committee for Social and Cultural Affairs, which covered education, youth and sports, public health and population, labor, and social affairs. The assembly could also form special standing committees for specific purposes. Each committee presented to the full assembly legislative proposals pertaining to affairs within its area of expertise. Determining the legislative agenda was the responsibility of the president of the National Assembly, his staff, and the committee heads.

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