Country Listing

Turkey Table of Contents


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 A second amendment repealed the provisional article of the constitution that had banned more than 200 political leaders from all political activity for a ten-year period ending in 1991.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).

President, Council of Ministers, and Prime Minister

The 1982 constitution vests executive authority in the president, who is the designated head of state. The president ensures implementation of the constitution and the orderly functioning of the government (see fig. 12). The president serves a seven-year term and cannot be reelected. Under a provisional article of the constitution, General Evren, who was chair of the NSC, automatically assumed the presidency when the constitution took effect at the end of 1982. Article 102 of the constitution provides the procedures for electing subsequent presidents, who must be chosen by the National Assembly from among its members. A deputy nominated for the presidency must obtain a two-thirds majority vote of the assembly. If a two-thirds majority cannot be obtained on the first two ballots, a third ballot is held, requiring only an absolute majority of votes. If a presidential candidate fails to obtain a majority on the third ballot, a fourth and final ballot is held, the choice being between the two candidates who received the greatest number of votes on the third ballot. If this procedure fails to produce a winner, new assembly general elections must be held immediately.

When Evren's seven-year term ended in November 1989, the assembly failed to produce a two-thirds vote for any candidate on the first two ballots. Prime Minister Turgut Özal won a majority on the third ballot and became Turkey's second president under the 1982 constitution. Özal died of a heart attack in April 1993 before completing his term in office. In the subsequent assembly vote for a new president, no candidate won a two-thirds majority on the first two ballots. Süleyman Demirel, who had become prime minister in November 1991, garnered the simple majority required for the third ballot and became the country's third president since the 1980 coup.

A candidate for president must have completed secondary education and must be at least forty years old. Articles 101 and 102 of the constitution provide that a presidential candidate can be nominated from outside the membership of the National Assembly if the candidate meets the stipulated qualifications and if the nomination is presented to the assembly in the form of a written resolution that has the endorsement of at least one-fifth of the deputies. In accordance with the requirement that the president-elect terminate relations with his or her political party, both Özal and Demirel resigned as heads of their respective parties following their election to the presidency.

The 1982 constitution gives the president a stronger and more extensive role than did the 1961 constitution, under which the presidency was a largely ceremonial office. The president is empowered to summon meetings of the National Assembly, promulgate laws, and ratify international treaties. The president also may veto legislation passed by the National Assembly, submit constitutional amendments proposed by the assembly to popular referenda, and challenge the constitutionality of assembly laws and cabinet decrees. The president's responsibilities include appointing the prime minister, convening and presiding over meetings of the Council of Ministers, and calling for new elections to the National Assembly. The president also is authorized to dispatch the Turkish armed forces for domestic or foreign military missions and to declare martial law.

The constitution also provides the president with appointive powers that he or she may exercise independently of the Council of Ministers. For example, the president is empowered to appoint the members of the Constitutional Court, one-quarter of the members of the Council of State, all diplomatic representatives, the chief of the General Staff, members of the Supreme Military Administrative Court, the Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, the State Supervisory Council, the Council of Higher Education, and all university presidents.

The president may be impeached for high treason at the recommendation of one-third of the members of the National Assembly and removed from office by the vote of a three-quarters majority. Otherwise, Article 105 of the constitution stipulates that "no appeal shall be made to any legal authority, including the Constitutional Court, against the decisions and orders signed by the president of the Republic on his own initiative." The constitution also provides for the establishment of a State Supervisory Council to conduct investigations and inspections of public organizations at the president's request.

The president presides over the National Security Council, a body that contains civilian as well as military members. It should not be confused with the former NSC, an all-military body, which ruled the country following the1980 coup and subsequently became the advisory Presidential Council. The present National Security Council is composed of the prime minister, the chief of the General Staff, the ministers of national defense, interior, and foreign affairs, and the commanders of the branches of the armed forces and the gendarmerie. This body sets national security policy and coordinates all activities related to mobilization and defense. An advisory Presidential Council, composed of the armed forces commanders who had joined Evren in the 1980 military coup and the military government that lasted until 1983, continued to advise the president until 1989. At that time, in accordance with the provisional articles appended to the 1982 constitution, the Presidential Council was dissolved (see Political Developments since the 1980 Coup, this ch.).

The Council of Ministers, or cabinet, is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president from among the elected deputies of the National Assembly. In practice, the president asks the head of the party with the largest number of deputies to form a government. The prime minister then nominates ministers for appointment by the president. Within one week of being selected, each new cabinet must be presented to the full assembly for a vote of confidence; a simple majority is required. If at any time during the Council of Ministers' tenure an absolute majority of the assembly should support a motion of no confidence, the ministers must resign. In the event that no party obtains a majority in National Assembly elections, a coalition of parties is allowed up to six weeks to form a government. If no new cabinet can be formed within forty-five days, the president may dissolve the assembly and call for new elections.

The prime minister supervises the implementation of government policy. Members of the Council of Ministers have joint and equal responsibility for the implementation of this policy. In addition, each minister is responsible for the conduct of affairs under his or her jurisdiction and for the actions of subordinates. In early 1995, the prime minister was Tansu Çiller, the first woman to hold this office. Her cabinet consists of a deputy prime minister and the following ministers: agriculture and rural affairs, communications and transport, culture, education, energy and natural resources, environment, finance, foreign affairs, forestry, health, industry and trade, interior, justice, labor, national defense, public works and housing, and tourism. Çiller's Council of Ministers also includes a number of ministers of state with cabinet rank.

In the area of national defense, the Council of Ministers is responsible to the assembly for national security and for the readiness of the armed forces. However, the president normally serves as commander in chief of the armed forces. With the president as chair, the cabinet is empowered to declare martial law or a state of emergency and to issue decrees without restriction during such periods.

The 1982 constitution strengthens the role of the Council of Ministers vis-à-vis the National Assembly by empowering the cabinet to issue regulations pertaining to the implementation of laws. However, the cabinet also is weakened in terms of its relationship to the president. The constitution grants the president the right to dismiss any minister upon the suggestion of the prime minister. In effect, individual ministers are subject to removal at the discretion of either the president or the prime minister.

Data as of January 1995

Country Listing

Turkey Table of Contents