Historical Development Or Evolution Of Turkish Constitution

(1) Introduction

constitutional There is a lengthy history of development or evolution of Turkish Constitution. Turkey has remained a laboratory where several constitutions were enacted and dismissed. Its first Constitution of 1876 was to change the Ottoman Empire into a constitutional empire, and its Constitutions of 1921, 1924 and 1961 were to modernize the Turkish Republic. Its current Constitution of 1982 was also enforced to transform Turkey into a modern state.

(2) Historical Development Or Evolution Of Turkish Constitution

The journey of Turkey from a noble Ottoman Empire to a constitutional Republic can be divided into following periods:

  • (i) During Ottoman Empire
  • (ii) Towards end & at end of Ottoman Empire
  • (iii) After Ottoman Empire

(i) During Ottoman Empire

Following events led the Turkish nation towards constitutional development during the Ottoman Empire:

  • (a) Charter of Alliance 1808
  • (b) Edict of Tanzimat 1839
  • (c) Constitution 1876

(a) Charter Of Alliance 1808

It was made under the, rule of Sultan Mahmut II, and is considered first step towards the Constitutional development or first constitutional document during the Ottoman Empire:

  • (a-i) Sultan & local rulers
  • (a-ii) Common people
  • (a-iii) Ineffective & unsuccessful

(a-i) Sultan & Local Rulers

It mostly prevented arbitrary actions of the Sultan, and guaranteed just treatment to the local rulers. In fact the Sultan Mahmut II accepted it to consolidate the declining authority of the Ottoman Empire to some extent. However, the Sultan Mahmut II did not recognize it after strengthening the authority of the empire.

(a-ii) Common People

It contained nothing for the common people. Therefore, it failed to gain popularity among them and, consequently, never received their support.

(a-iii) Ineffective & Unsuccessful

It did not establish any institutions for its own implementation, and, consequently, was not enforced. Therefore, it remained ineffective and unsuccessful.

(b) Edict of Tanzimat 1839

Sultan Abdulmajid enacted it. It is considered second step towards the constitutional development during the Ottoman Empire:

  • (b-i) Civil rights
  • (b-ii) System of taxation
  • (b-iii) Equality before law
  • (b-iv) Effective & successful

(b-i) Civil Rights

It guaranteed some civil rights like right to life, honour and property to the subjects.

(b-ii) System Of Taxation

It promised to introduce an equitable system of taxation.

(b-iii) Equality Before Law

It also promised that all subjects would be equal before law.

(b-iv) Effective & Successful

It remained effective and successful. The main reason was that an institution was established to fulfill its promises, and this institution was Supreme Council for Judicial Regulations.

(c) Constitution 1876

The Turkish politicians learnt from the constitutional developments during the nineteenth century:

  • (c-i) Coup against Sultan Abdulaziz
  • (c-ii) Enthronement of Abdulhamid
  • (c-iii) Fundamental Law
  • (c-iv) Ineffective constitution
  • (c-v) Rebellion against Abdulhamid II

(c-i) Coup Against Abdulaziz

Young Ottoman, a secret society of Turkish politicians, staged a coup against Adbulaziz, and he was overthrown.

(c-ii) Enthronement Of Abdulhamid

Abdulhamid was enthroned on this condition that he would act as a constitutional monarch.

(c-iii) Fundamental Law

Sultan Abudlhamid enacted Fundamental Law in 1876. It was the very First Constitution of the Turkish legal history:

  • (u) Bicameral Parliament
  • (w) Legislative powers
  • (x) Responsibility of ministers
  • (y) Dissolution of Parliament
  • (z) Right to exile

(u) Bicameral Parliament

It established a bicameral parliament; General Assembly consisted of elected Chamber of Deputies by the people and appointed Chamber of Notables by the Sultan.

(w) Legislative Powers

The Parliament was permitted to legislate. However, legislation needed the Sultan’s approval. In addition to this, the Sultan could enact decrees without any restriction.

(x) Responsibility Of Ministers

The ministers were responsible to the Sultan.

(y) Dissolution Of Parliament

The Sultan had right to dissolve the Parliament,

(z) Right To Exile

The Sultan had the right to exile anyone whom he considered dangerous to the safety of the state.

(e-iv) Ineffective Constitution

This very first Constitution proved ineffective; Sultan Abdulhamid II immediately used his constitutional powers with the excuse of Russo-Turkish War to send the Prime Minister to exile and to suspend the constitutional monarchy.

(e-v) Rebellion against Abdulhamid II

The resented Young Turks formed Committee of Union and Progress and rebelled against Abdullhamid II:

  • (w) Revolution, Parliament & Dethronement
  • (x) 1876 Constitution
  • (y) Provisions favoring the Sultan
  • (z) Constitutional monarchy

(x) Revolution, Parliament & Dethronement

The revolution was made, the Parliament was reconvened and Abdullhamid II was dethroned.

(x) 1876 Constitution

The Constitution of 1876 was revised, and it remained in force until total collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

(y) Provisions Favouring The Sultan

The provisions, which favoured the Sultan, were removed from the Constitution.

(z) Constitutional Monarchy

A real constitutional monarchy with multi-party democracy began.

(ii) Towards End & At End Of Ottoman Empire

After the Turkish defeat in First World War, Mustafa Kemal Pasha launched a war of independence:

  • (a) Grand National Assembly
  • (b) 1921 Constitution
  • (c) Amendments to 1921 Constitution
  • (d) Abolishment of Ottoman Empire

(a) Grand National Asserably

A new revolutionist parliament named The Grand National Assembly was founded.

 (b) 1921 Constitution

The Grand National Assembly ratified the first Constitution of newly-emerging state of Turkey:

  • (b-i) National Sovereignty
  • (b-ii) Unicameral legislature
  • (b-iii) Domination of Grand National Assembly

(b-i) National Sovereignty

It introduced principle of national sovereignty; sovereignty was vested in the nation without condition.

(b-ii) Unicameral Legislature

It established a unicameral legislature; the only house was the Grand National Assembly.

(b-iii) Domination Of Grand National Assembly

It established domination of the Grand National Assembly over the executive and judiciary

(c) Abolishment Of Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was abolished by an ordinance of the Grand National Assembly.

(d) Amendments To 1921

Constitution In 1923, some amendments were made to 1921 Constitution

  • (d-i) Republic
  • (d-ii) Separate heads for legislature & executive
  • (d-iii) Prime Minister & ministers

(d-i) Republic

Turkey became a Republic.

(d-ii) Separate Heads For Legislature & Executive

Office of the President was created to have separate heads for the legislature and the executive.

(d-iii) Prime Minister & Ministers

The President was to nominate the Prime Minister and ministers from the members of the Grand National Assembly.

(iii) After Ottoman Empire

After the Ottoman Empire, the constitutional history of Turkey can be divided into following two periods:

  • (a) Constitution by Grand National Assembly
  • (b) Constitutions by Constituent Assemblies

(a) Constitution By Grand National Assembly

Grand National Assembly adopted new Constitution in 1924 because 1921 Constitution was short, flexible and transitory:

  • (a-i) Republic
  • (a-ii) National sovereignty
  • (a-iii) Supremacy of Constitution
  • (a-iv) Rights
  • (a-v) Parliamentary

(a-1) Republic

It preserved the status of Turkey as a Republic.

(a-ii) National Sovereignty

It preserved the principle of national sovereignty too; sovereignty belonged to nation without restriction.

(a-iii) Supremacy Of Constitution

It introduced the principle of supremacy of the Constitution.

(a-iv) Rights

It recognized civil and political rights, and granted women the right to vote and contest elections.

(v) Parliamentary Government

It introduced a parliamentary form of government; only the members of the Grand National Assembly could be Prime Minister and ministers and the President had no right to dissolve the Parliament.

(b) Constitutions By Constituent Assemblies

(b-i) 1961 Constitution

In 1960, a military coup was staged against the authoritarian Democratic Party government, and a Constituent Assembly drafted a new Constitution. This new Constitution was approved by popular vote:

  • (w) Republic
  • (x) Sovereignty
  • (y) Bicameral legislature
  • (z) Parliamentary government

(w) Republic

It also preserved the status of Turkey as a Republic.

(x) Sovereignty

It changed the principle of sovereignty; sovereignty was to be exercised through the authorized agencies.

(y) Bicameral Legislature

It introduced bicameral legislature; National Assembly was the lower house while Senate was the upper house.

(a) Parliamentary Government

It maintained parliamentary form of government; the Prime Minister and ministers were responsible both individually and collectively to the Parliament.

(b-ii) 1982 Constitution

In 1980, military coup was again staged on this ground that 1961 Constitution failed to bring pluralist democracy and stability. A Constituent Assembly under the umbrella of military drafted a new constitution, and the same was approved through a referendum:

  • (w) Republic
  • (x) National sovereignty
  • (y) legislature
  • (z) Form of government

(w) National

It has restored the principle of national sovereignty; sovereignty belongs to the nation without any restriction or condition.

(x) Republic

It also preserved the status of Turkey as a Republic.

(y) Unicameral Legislature

It restored unicameral legislature; the Grand National Assembly is the only house of the Parliament.

(z) Form Of Government

It initially established parliamentary form of government. However, it has later on introduced presidential form of government.

(3) Conclusion

It can be finally stated that Turkey has so far experienced two constitutional movements; the political elements played an important role during the first constitutional movement to transform the Ottoman Empire into a constitutional monarchy and their role continued during the second constitutional movement to transform Turkey into a modern state until military intervention. Unfortunately, 1961 Constitution was and the current 1982 Constitution is not product of any political or constitutional movement. Rather they have been drafted under the influence of military.

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