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Role of parliaments in foreign and security policy formulation & oversight of the executive

21. Yüzyıl Türkiye Enstitüsü tarafından yazıldı.


Role of parliaments in foreign and security policy formulation & oversight of the executive

Incek Debates, in a two-debate series, discussed ‘Role of parliaments in foreign and security policy formulation & oversight of the executive’ in‘Presidential’ (12 October 2017) and ‘Parliamentary’ (23 November 2017) democracies.

Speakers (American system):

Rep Jeff Miller (R), Former Congressman, the House of Representatives of the U.S. (via Zoom)

Rep Jim Moran (D), Former Congressman, the House of Representatives of the U.S. (via Zoom)


Ambassador Yaşar Yakış, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey

MP Dr Dursun Çiçek, National Defence Committee, Grand National Assembly of Turkey

Ms Tülin Daloğlu, Publisher/Journalist, ‘Halimiz’


Speakers (Norwegian and British systems):

Mr Hans Christian Hveem Kjolseth, First Secretary, the Royal Norwegian Embassy, Ankara

Dr Haldun Solmaztürk


MP Oğuz Kaan Salıcı, Foreign Affairs Committee, Grand National Assembly of Turkey

MG Orhan Turfan

Assoc Prof Kürşad Turan, Gazi University, Ankara


Sessions were chaired by Dr Haldun Solmaztürk and were participated by a select group of experts as well as representatives of the diplomatic corps resident in Ankara. Below is Rapporteur’s Summary of these debates, not necessarily reflecting particular viewpoints expressed by any one of the speakers or discussants, nor those of any one or all of the participants in consensus. Debates were off-the-record.

The Incek Debates is grateful for the assistance and cooperation of the Embassy of the United States of America and the Royal Norwegian Embassy for making distinguished speakers available.



Foreign and security policy formulation—and decision-making—does not take place in a vacuum. Actors operate within the constraints of the external environment, demands and restraints of the domestic context and distortions caused by psychological prisms. There are contingent, complex interactions between actors and the environment.

Foreign and security policy structures and processes in a political system have patterned effects on policy decisions. Processes through which these structures operate are described and sanctioned by constitutions, laws, by-laws. ‘Rules and routines’, institutional culture give meaning to the former.

Parliaments and parliamentary structures in democracies—in addition to their legislative functions—have dual roles as actors in policy formulation and as political agents for oversight of the executive. Likewise, in Turkey, legislative process, policy formulation process and other parliamentary functions such as oversight and scrutiny are mainly governed and regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, the Rules of Procedure of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, precedent and convention. Legislative process is the natural continuation of the political decision-making and policy formulation process and provides the legal measures/tools to implement policies, strategies and plans.

Turkish government, early in 2017, initiated a radical amendment of the Constitution, mainly (apart from few exceptions) with effect from 2019. It was argued, by the governing party, that this amendment package and the changes it introduced would advance the democratization process in Turkey. On the other hand, some others, opposing these changes, expressed serious concerns about these fundamental changes. Much of the criticism has centered around the role of parliament and its ‘reduced’ role in both realms—policy formulation and oversight. (Particularly; presidential nominations to unspecified number of higher offices—to include unspecified number of Vice-Presidents—and the state budget, effectively, will not be subject to approval by the parliament. Executive president will make his/her own laws in the form of presidential decrees, with nominal challenge.)

Such concerns have particularly been multiplied by the recent amendment of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure in July 2017—that went into effect on 1 August 2017. Current Rules of Procedure of the Turkish Parliament is originally dated 1973. In the course of 45 years, it has survived military rules and coups and has been amended several times. Yet, it is majoritarian and rules out any meaningful participation by the civil society or academia and even denies an effective role to the political opposition. Furthermore, a comprehensive amendment package—that can be called a ‘new’ Rules of Procedure—is expected to be forwarded to the Parliament soon. Many observors and commentators warn about a further regression in the role of the Turkish Grand National Assembly in areas of foreign and security policy formulation and oversight of the executive.

Against this background, Incek Debates, discussed the cases of ‘Presidential’ and ‘Parliamentary’ democracies, exploring their ‘institutions, rules, processes and culture’. Below are the main findings of these debates, summarized for informing the wider debate within the society, media, academia and particularly in the Parliament, with a view to inspiring a more democratic Rules of Procedure for the Turkish Parliament. 


In the US Congress, there are two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. 435 representatives are elected for two-year terms, but 100 senators for 6-year terms that overlap, that is one-third of the chamber is up for election each cycle. It is a ‘presidential’ system with an executive presidency. Norway, ‘parliamentary’ constitutional monarchy, has the 169-member (elected for a 4-year term) unicameral Stortinget (Norwegian parliament). The United Kingdom parliament consists of two chambers, House of Commons (650 MPs, elected every 5 years) and House of Lords (838 Lords, no retirement age). The Crown plays a largely formal, ceremonial role.

Parliaments are busy institutions and there is a division of labour. In the US Congress, each legislative term (2 years), on average 10,000 bills are introduced and 1,000 bills go to full house vote. Only the House can originate revenue legislation (Power of the purse), and only the Senate confirms presidential nominations, approves treaties and declares war.

Rules & Processes

A bill always has one sponsor, but may have one or many co-sponsors. Some bills, resolutions may not make law, but express sentiment of the house. Bills are referred to committees by Speakers.

Hearings are common in all three systems, to hear about strengths and weaknesses of a proposal from stake holders and experts. Invited witness(es) provide short oral remarks to the committee and also submit a longer written version of their feedback on the bill. Then, members of the committee take turns asking witness(es) questions. Hearings in committees, in principle, are open to public. Regular meetings may be closed.


…In UK parliament, in debates, the language must be restrained. An MP may not accuse another of lying or of deliberately misleading the House and ‘good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language’.

‘Question times’ are common and important features of parliamentary culture in both the UK and Norway. In Norway, each week, members of the government answer questions from MPs for about an hour. Once a month PM personally answer questions. In UK, Question Time (of ministers) takes place every day except a Friday—for an hour. PM’s Question Time is on Wednesday, 12:00-12:30. Urgent Questions—granted by the Speaker—bring a minister to the House at very short notice.

…Presence of a ‘higher chamber’ such as the US Senate makes a positive difference for bi-partisan oversight of the executive. UK Lords represent no one but themselves. In Lords, proceedings can be protracted, but filibustering is rare, most of the changes are by agreement. Examination by a second chamber allows time for reflections and to ‘get things right’.

…On the other hand, with MPs or senators/lords with relatively higher levels of life experience and education individual conscious may overrule party line and reach across the aisle.

Bottom line

Each system is based on checks and balances between branches, and separation of powers. Parliaments have an absolute authority and tools to keep the executive accountable.

Political pluralism, rather than majoritarianism, recognizes rights and responsibilies of the political opposition in all three parliaments.

Hearings are common as fundamental activities for an effective parliament and, as a rule, they are open to public and widely broadcasted, webcast and published on website; so are question times and general debates in chambers.

The Grand National Assembly of Turkey may need to revisit the draft Rules of Procedure, prepared in consensus by an all-party committee in 2011—praised by the EU and the European Parliament—as a blueprint for a ‘democratic’ Rules of Procedure.

The full report is available to 21st Century Turkey Institute members

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