National Assembly

National Assembly

The 1982 constitution vests the power to enact legislation in the unicameral National Assembly (Millet Meclis). The first National Assembly, consisting of 400 deputies, was elected in November 1983 to a five-year term. The new Motherland Party headed by Turgut Özal won a majority of seats (211) and formed Turkey's first civilian government since the 1980 coup. In 1987 Özal convinced the National Assembly to adjourn itself one year short of its five-year mandate and hold new elections, a procedure that is permitted under the constitution. Prior to these elections, the assembly approved two constitutional amendments that affected its future structure and composition. One amendment expanded the assembly from 400 to 450 seats. A second amendment repealed the provisional article of the constitution that had banned more than 200 political leaders from all political activity for a ten-year period ending in 1991. This article had permitted the military to retain a degree of control over the electoral process, both at the national and local levels. Its repeal enabled Turkey's best-known politicians, including Süleyman Demirel and Bülent Ecevit, to participate openly in the electoral process. Consequently the National Assembly elections held in November 1987 constituted the first genuinely free balloting in the country since the 1980 coup.

Özal's party won a majority (292 of 450 seats) in the 1987 assembly elections, and he continued to head the government until 1989, when he was elected president. In 1991 the National Assembly again voted to schedule elections one year early. However, as a result of the October balloting, the Motherland Party won only 24 percent of the vote, coming in second behind Demirel's True Path Party, which obtained 27 percent of the vote. Because none of the political parties had won a clear majority, Demirel obtained the agreement of the Social Democratic Populist Party to form a coalition government. The next National Assembly elections are due to be held in October 1996.

Although the constitution stipulates that by-elections to fill vacant seats may be held once between general elections--unless the number of vacancies reaches 5 percent of the total assembly membership--the National Assembly has not scheduled such elections on a regular basis. The assembly holds a convocation following elections, but does not open its annual legislative term until the first day of September. By law, it cannot be in recess for more than three months in a year. Article 93 of the constitution empowers the president during an assembly adjournment to summon the deputies for an extraordinary session, either on his or her own initiative or at the written request of one-fifth of the members.

The National Assembly's powers include exclusive authority to enact, amend, and repeal laws. It also can pass legislation over the veto of the president. The assembly supervises the Council of Ministers and authorizes it to issue government decrees. The assembly is responsible for debating and approving the government's budget and making decisions pertaining to the printing of currency. In addition, the assembly approves the president's ratification of international treaties and has authority to declare war. The constitution stipulates that the assembly can request that the executive respond to written questions, investigations, and interpellations, and can vote the Council of Ministers out of office.

According to Article 76 of the constitution, every Turkish citizen over the age of thirty is eligible to be a National Assembly deputy, provided that he or she has completed primary education and has not been convicted of a serious crime or been involved in "ideological and anarchistic activities." In addition, men are required to have performed their compulsory military service. Members of higher judicial and education institutions as well as civil servants and members of the armed forces must resign from office before standing for election. Article 80 of the constitution stipulates that deputies represent the whole nation, not just their own constituencies.

Articles 83 and 84 of the constitution grant deputies parliamentary immunities, such as freedom of speech and, with some qualifications, freedom from arrest. These freedoms were put to a severe test in March 1994, when the National Assembly voted to strip the parliamentary immunities of seven deputies who had spoken out within the assembly on behalf of civil rights for the country's Kurdish minority. The seven deputies were arrested at the door of the National Assembly building in Ankara and charged with making speeches that constituted "crimes against the state."

Articles 83 and 84 also provide for a deputy to be deprived of membership in the National Assembly by vote of an absolute majority of its members. Furthermore, a deputy who resigns from his or her political party after an election may not be nominated as a candidate in the next election by any party in existence at the time of that resignation.

As was also the case before the 1980 coup, deputies in the National Assembly in early 1995 typically were fairly young, well-educated members of the elite, with as many as two-thirds having college degrees. However, since 1983 there has been a shift in occupational representation away from a predominance of government officials. In the three assemblies elected starting in 1983, a large percentage of deputies were lawyers, engineers, businesspeople, and economists (see The Changing National Elite, ch. 2).

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