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Constitutional Development

The Ottoman Empire was among the first non-Western nations to establish a constitutional government. Constitutional movements in the Ottoman Empire, which began during the second half of the 19th century, can be characterized as the product of the following developments: the decline of the Ottoman societal system, influence of the Western European socioeconomic and political developments and emergence of an enlightenment age in the Ottoman Empire. They were topdown constitutional movements in contrast with those of the Western countries.

Two major steps toward a constitutional government were the Rescript of Tanzimat of 1839 and that of Islahat of 1856. The rescripts were unilateral declarations and recognition by the Sultan of certain basic human rights. These rescripts also paved the way for the promulgation of the first Ottoman Constitution in 1876. The 1876 Constitution provided certain mechanisms checking the absolute power of the Sultan by creating a legislative assembly partially elected by the people.

In 1909, the 1876 Constitution was substantially amended to increase the powers of the legislature and to restrict those of the Sultan for developing a democratic monarchical political system similar to that of the Western European societies.

The 1921 Constitution established during the War of Independence included rules necessitated by the conditions and requirements of war. It proclaimed the principle of "national sovereignty" as an expression of the radical revolutionary transformation in the Turkish society by establishing the constitutional principle that the Grand National Assembly is the sole and true representative of the nation. For realizing this purpose, it established an assembly government system in which all the powers of sovereignty were embodied in the parliament.

The Republic of Turkey adopted its first constitution in 1924. It retained the basic principles of the 1921 Constitution, notably the principle of national sovereignty. As in the 1921 Constitution, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) was considered to be the "sole representative of the nation." The 1924 Constitution provided for a continuation of the parliamentary system. Both the legislative and executive powers were embodied in the Assembly. Although the Assembly had the power to supervise and dismiss the Government, neither the Government nor the President had the authority to dissolve the parliament. The 1924 Constitution can be characterized as a step toward a parliamentary system. The Assembly was able to exercise executive power through the President and the Council of Ministers. In other words, there was a clear separation of powers. Meanwhile, the collective responsibility of the ministers before the Assembly was also adopted. The principle that the President must not bear any political responsibility was another feature of the 1924 Constitution. The judiciary was totally separated from the legislative and executive bodies. Judicial power was to be exercised by independent courts on behalf of the nation.

The second constitution of the Republic of Turkey was adopted in 1961. In its macrosocietal dynamics, the 1961 Constitution represents a positive response to the influence of the rising tide of the left and social state in the world and the semiindustrialized status of economy in Turkey. Consequently, it established a constitutional system within the framework of social state, rule of law and a parliamentarian democratic governmental system.

The 1961 Constitution introduced a bicameral parliament. The National Assembly, one of the parliamentary chambers, consisted of 450 deputies elected by universal suffrage. The other chamber known as the Senate of the Republic, included 150 members elected by universal suffrage. Additionally it would include 15 members appointed by the President, members of the Committee of National Unity that seized power on May 27, 1960, and former presidents. The National Assembly had the final say in the lawmaking process.

In the exercise of executive power the President symbolically represented the unity and integrity of the State. The Prime Minister and the Ministers made up the Council of Ministers, who bore political responsibility for the use of this power.

The 1961 Constitution fully separated the judiciary, the executive and the legislative branches under the principle of the separation of powers. In this system, details regarding the security of judges, as well as matters related to the full freedom and independence of the courts, and the positions of the judges and public prosecutors were turned over to the "High Council for Judges and Public Prosecutors." Furthermore, the concept of the "Constitutional Court" was first introduced with the 1961 Constitution in accordance with its aim of establishing a fully developed concept of the rule of law.




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