Constitutional Movements During the Ottoman Period
Constitutional movements during the Ottoman period commenced towards the end of the 18th century. During the period of the 1789-1808, Sultan Selim the Third envisaged the formation of an advisory assembly, called the Meclis-i Meshveret, within the context of the New System (called the Nizam-i Cedid) that he wanted to have set up, which is seen as a major step towards a constitutional government system.
The Sened-i Ittifak, or Charter of Alliance, is seen as the first important document from the point of view of a constitutional order.
Whilst the 1808 charter restricted the Sultan’s exercise of power, it also delegated some authorities to a senate body, called the Ayan. The charter is a significant document as it was also recognized by the Sultan.
The Tanzimat Reform era commenced with the issue of the decree entitled Gulhane Hatt-i Humayun in 1839. The subjects of the Ottoman Padishah were assured that their basic rights would be respected.
The documents is especially significant for its recognition of equal rights in education and in government administration for those of Christian persuasion, exemplifying egalitarian principles. The 1875 document entitled the Ferman-i Adalet, or the Imperial Edict on Justice, provided for independence of the judicial courts and ensured the safety of judges.
The most important step along the road to the rule of law was made with the introduction of the 1876 Kanun-i Esasiye, or Constitution, which also started the period known as the First Meshrutiyet, or First Constitutional Period. The basic concept in the 1876 constitution is that, although somewhat restrictive in the exercise of powers, it nevertheless, for the first time, recognized a parliamentary system.
This constitution has provisions covering basic rights and privileges, the independence of courts and the safety of judges, among other aspects.
After the 1876 Constitution had been in effect for one year, the Second Meshrutiyet period laid the foundations of a parliamentary system by adopting the 1876 Constitution with some amendments made thereto.
The Constitutional System During the War of Independence
When the Turkish Grand National Assembly congregated on April 23, 1920, this in itself marked a unique and important change in the exercise of sovereignty.
During the Ottoman reign, the workings of Parliament were to an extent, the use by delegation of the powers of the ruler in the legislative process.
Whereas, in the case of the workings of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, all authority was vested in Parliament itself.
The Constitution of January 20, 1921 is called the Constitution Law, and when compared with the Ottoman legal system contains a radically new concept. According to this concept, whilst the power to legislate belongs to parliament, the executive powers can only be exercised by an executive council to be elected by majority vote from among the members of Parliament.
According to this Law of Constitution, differences of opinion and disagreements between ministers are to be resolved in Parliament.
In addition to this, the changing of ministers is also counted among the powers of Parliament. The name of the government during the course of the war of independence was the Government of the Grand National Assembly and the name of the regular army The Army of the Grand National Assembly. On the other hand, the government itself was vested with the power to dissolve Parliament or to renew the election of the Assembly.
In this system, which did not have a Head of State, the members of Independence Tribunals were also elected from among the members of the Assembly.
An important step was taken to establish a Council of Ministers with more freedom of movement when a motion that the form of the state should be Republic was enacted on October 29, 1923; the President of the Republic was to be elected from among the members of the Assembly for one term of office. According to law, the President would select the Prime Minister from among the members of the Parliament. In turn the Prime Minister would select the other Ministers from among the members of Parliament and, finally, the President would submit the whole of the Council of Ministers for the approval of Parliament.
The Republican Era Constitutions
The 1924 Constitution
The 1924 Constitution provided for the continuation of the system of parliamentary governments.
Powers of both legislation and execution were held by Parliament. Whilst Parliament had the right to monitor and if necessary to bring down the Government, neither the President nor the Government could dissolve Parliament.
Although under the provisions of the 1924 Constitution, executive powers could only be exercised by the President or the Council of Ministers, the 1924 Constitution, contained elements of both the parliamentary system and governmental executive powers. In this manner, whilst Parliament directly exercised legislative powers, a separation of powers did exist in view of the exercise of executive power.
Furthermore, the principle of collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to Parliament and the concept of the President not being vested with political responsibility are embodied in the 1924 Constitution.
The judicial and executive powers are clearly separated. Independent courts exercise judiciary powers on behalf of the nation.
The 1924 Constitution was amended in 1937, the six main principles of the Republican Peoples’ Party programme, republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism, secularism, and reformism, also being enshrined in the Constitution itself as basic qualities of the state.