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Turkish Grand National Assembly

TURKISH GRAND NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

The legislative body of Turkey.

The first parliament in Ottoman/Turkish history was convened in 1876 and was short lived. The second attempt, in 1908, also lasted for only a brief period. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi) was founded on 23 April 1921, at the outset of the Turkish War of Independence; it proclaimed the republic on 29 October 1923. The assembly functioned as a legislature with one party until 1946; a transition to multiparty politics was initiated by the original party, the Republican People's Party (RPP; or Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP).


Two-Party Politics

According to the constitution, the assembly represented the expression of national sovereignty. Its function was to legislate, control the executive via the budget, and elect the head of state. From 1950 to 1957 the assembly was headed by the Democrat Party. In the 1950, 1954, and 1957 elections, the two major parties collectively received more than 90 percent of the total votes and controlled 98 percent of the parliamentary seats. The traditional center-periphery or elite-mass cleavage that the Turkish Republic inherited from the Ottoman Empire shaped the emerging political dualism. The Democrat Party projected the image of representing the interests of the periphery, including their religious aspirations, while the RPP was identified with the elitist and secularist orientation of the political center. Institutional factors also proved to be important. The simple plurality electoral system with multi-member districts worked to the advantage of the two strongest parties.

Financial and economic crises and the electoral losses of the Democrat Party in 1957 led to the adoption of authoritarian policies and laws, which brought about the military coup of 1960. The activities of the assembly were suspended for a year; all the deputies and cabinet members of the Democrat Party were prosecuted and parliament was dissolved.


1961 Constitution

The 1961 constitution, drafted by a constituent assembly, placed importance on the division of powers and broadened civil liberties. Broadcasting and higher education were granted autonomy. Numerous checks and balances were introduced, aimed at controlling arbitrary executive rule. A bicameral legislature was formed. The lower house, the National Assembly (Millet Meclisi), had 400 members elected for four-year terms. The upper house, the Republican Senate (Cumhuriyet Senatosu), consisted of 150 members elected for six-year terms, plus fifteen additional senators appointed by the president of the republic on the basis of merit, a varying number of ex-officio life members who belonged to the National Unity Committee of the interim military government, and former presidents of the republic. The legislative powers of the Senate remained limited and subordinate to the National Assembly. Joint sessions of the two assemblies constituted the new Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA). After the military coup of 1980, the Senate was abolished. On 12 September 1980, the legislature was dissolved and all political parties banned. The interim regime lasted two years. An appointed consultative assembly prepared a new constitution.


1982 Constitution

The 1982 constitution was approved by a referendum on 9 November 1982. It vests legislative power in a unicameral assembly, elected by universal adult suffrage (the age at which one could vote was at first twenty-one but in 1995 was lowered to eighteen) for a maximum of five years. By-elections are to be held once between elections unless the number of vacancies reaches 5 percent of the parliament. The president of the republic is elected by the TGNA from among its members or from among candidates who have a higher education and are over forty. The president serves for a single term of seven years; a successor must be elected within thirty days. If no successor can be elected by the fourth ballot, parliament must dissolve itself. After the presidencies of Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel, in 2000 the TGNA elected Ahmet Necdet Nezer, former chair of the Constitutional Court. The prerogatives of the president are more extensive than in the previous constitution; they include the power to dissolve parliament. The 1987 elections enlarged the membership of the TGNA from 400 to 450; in 1995, the number of seats was raised to 550. The main functions of the TGNA are enacting, amending, and repealing laws; supervising the Council of Ministers; authorizing the Council of Ministers to issue governmental decrees that have the force of law; approving the budget; declaring war; ratifying international agreements; and proclaiming amnesties and pardons. Legislators exercise control in the form of written questions, investigation, and interpellation. Members of parliament are granted parliamentary immunity with regard to freedom of speech and, under certain circumstances, freedom from arrest.

As of 1993, constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority. If no quorum is achieved, the president of the republic can return the amendment to parliament or refer the amendment to a popular vote. The state monopoly on television was eliminated, opening television to national and international channels; the right of government officials to organize unions was granted; prisoners were given the right to vote; political parties were permitted to establish women's and youth branches; discretionary power was allocated to the executive to declare early local elections or to postpone them. In the summer of 2002, new amendments legalized Kurdish-language radio and television, private-school education in Kurdish, and the abolition of capital punishment.

Under the current electoral rules, a party must receive 10 percent of the vote to gain representation in parliament. After 1987, this threshold was increased by adding a district-level quota (calculated by a simple proportion of the valid votes) to the parliamentary seats per district. This practice left a number of parties out of parliament. The Kurdish parties were eliminated despite their high regional return because their nationwide vote was less than 10 percent. Parties that do receive 10 percent of the national note win a proportionally higher share of parliamentary seats. For example, the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) under the leadership of Tayyip Erdoğan received 34.2 percent of the votes but 363 seats, eliminating all competing parties with the exception of the RPP, which received 19.3 percent of the votes and 178 seats. With the phasing out of sixteen political parties, 45.3 percent of the voters remained without representation. This brought Turkish politics back to a dual party system. In parliament, 89 percent of the members were newcomers. More than 80 percent of the parliamentarians had a higher education; they were predominantly lawyers, engineers, businessmen, and economists. The representation of women registered a slow gain. Despite the active support of women's organizations, the number of women parliamentarians registered only a slight increase, from 23 in 1999 to 24 in 2002.


Realignment

Looking at the political composition of the TGNA, a significant voter realignment can be seen, and high volatility in Turkey's major parties. Beginning in the 1980s and continuing in the 1990s, the moderate right parties registered a steady decline. Özal's party, the Motherland Party (Anavatan Partisi), winner of the 1983 elections, fell from having 292 representatives in 1987 to having 88 in 1999. On the moderate left, a similar phenomenon took place. The RPP was left out of parliament in 1999 with 8.7 percent of the votes and returned in 2002 with 19.3 percent; Bülent Ecevit's party, the Democratic Left Party (Demokratik Sol Partisi), gained 22.2 percent in 1999 but was eliminated with 1.2 percent in 2002.

This realignment pushed the extreme right, exemplified by the ultra-right-wing Nationalist Action Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi) and the much smaller nationalist Great Unity Party (Büyük Birlik Partisi), into the political spectrum. The Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) and its successor the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) also benefited from this realignment. The coalition governments of the 1990s were dominated by these political groups. The results of the 2002 election indicate that the center-periphery cleavage has lost its determining relevance. Instead, protest voting seems to have gained ascendancy.

The performance of Turkey's parliamentary system offers an important example of how electoral processes have played a critical role in opening the political system after each military intervention. Another new aspect of Turkish political life is the growing importance of local elections. With the increasing weight of large cities and metropolitan areas, urban problems influence electoral choice at the local and national level. The recent electoral success of the Justice and Development Party is partly due to the reputation Erdoğan, the former mayor of Istanbul, acquired. Major conflicts in national politics, such as those over secularism, affect voting patterns at both levels. Although Turkey's democratization started during the late 1940s, democracy has not been fully achieved, but the country's relatively long and continuous experience with democratic politics in twenty-two national elections represents a significant achievement.

see also akp (justice and development party); demirel, sÜleyman; democrat party; erdoĞan, tayyip; motherland party; nationalist action party; ottoman empire; Özal, turgut; refah partisi; republican people's party (rpp).

Bibliography

Heper, Metin, and Evin, Ahmet, eds. State, Democracy, and the Military: Turkey in the 1980s. New York; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1988.

Özbudun, Ergun. Contemporary Turkish Politics: Challenges to Democratic Consolidation. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000.

Zürcher, Erik J. Turkey: A Modern History, new revised edition. New York and London: I. B. Tauris, 1998.

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