Ottoman parliamentary procedure in the Chamber of Deputies (Meclis-i Mebusan) and the Great National Assembly of Turkey (Tilrkiye Bilyilk Millet Meclisi), 1876-1923

Ellinor Morack

Introduction

Sometime in the late 1980s, my mother and I were visiting a Turkish family in western Turkey. We were sitting with several women and small children in the living room, where, as was the custom, the TV was on, showing a parliamentary debate. Nobody was paying attention to the TV, until suddenly a fistfight involving at least a dozen deputies broke out on screen. Twice as many deputies rushed over, trying to separate the fighting ones. The women in the living room reacted with mildly amused disapproval: “Look what kind of deputies we have! This is what they call democracy and civilization! Don’t they know that foreigners are watching?!”

To this day, it is not uncommon for such brawls to break out in the Turkish National Assembly, as well as in many other (but, interestingly, not all) parliaments around the world.1 Parliamentarians, like all other people, sometimes do not follow their own rules, the internal regulations (Turkish: igtiizuk, Ottoman Turkish: nizamname-i dahiliyesi), which, across the globe, ban the use of physical violence in the house. Such rule-breaking by deputies, however, is of specific delicacy, as parliaments not only have laws, but also make them. To put it differently: internal regulations are laws that prescribe how laws ought to be made. Nonobservance or bending of internal rules (such as election fraud, manipulation of votes, threats or violence against political adversaries, nonobservance of quota rules) may happen in the very process of passing legislation, and may therefore jeopardize either the legitimacy of the laws enacted by such illegal means or, even worse, that of the parliamentary system as such.

From a historian’s point of view, internal regulations and their more or less faithfill observance by deputies can be instructive for a better understanding of parliamentary systems and their change over time. To check regulations against their application means to study the relationship between parliaments and the other institutions in constitutional regimes. This is what the present chapter aims to do for the parliamentary experience of the late Ottoman Empire during its First

DOI: 10.4324/9781003158608

Ottoman parliamentary procedure 221 (1876-1878) and Second (1908-1920) Constitutional Periods, as well as for the years leading up to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey (1920-1923). During those three years, and in fact until 1927, the Great National Assembly (BUyilk Millet Meclisi, from 1921 onward: TUrkiye Biiyilk Millet Meclisi. henceforth: TBMM) officially followed the internal regulations of the last Ottoman Chamber of Deputies (Heyet-i Mebusan, from 1908 onward: Meclis-i Mebusan). However, faithfulness with the late Ottoman internal regulations decreased massively during the period of transformation from empire to nation-state. I will argue that these violations can be explained as results of two diverging yet parallel trends that had already been present in late Ottoman times: the first was a drive toward a strengthening of parliament vis-à-vis other constitutional institutions. The second may be described as the prevailing of an authoritarian spirit in the guise of parliamentarism.

 
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