The First Ottoman Constitution and the First Parliament (I. Meşrutiyet)
Sultan Abdülhamit II, who ascended the throne on September 1, 1876, established a special committee with 28 persons called “ Meclis-i Mahsusa” in order to draft the first constitution. The committee, headed by Mithad Pasha, drafted the constitution on November 20, 1876, and presented it to the Sultan. The Sultan promulgated the Constitution (Kanun-i Esasi) on December 23, 1876.
The first Ottoman parliament (Meclis-i Umumi) was opened by a speech delivered by the Sultan on March 19, 1877. According to the Constitution, the parliament was bicameral. The lower chamber was called Meclis-i Mebusan, and Meclis-i Ayan was the upper chamber (senate). The members of the Meclis-i Ayan were to be appointed by the Sultan on condition that the number of senators was not to exceed one-third of the number of members of the lower house. The members of the Meclis-i Ayan were to serve for life.
According to the Kanun-i Esasi, it was necessary to obtain prior permission from the Sultan to propose a bill, and the Sultan had the power of veto. This meant that Parliament did not possess any legislative authority, while the Meclis-i Umumi as a whole only had this authority to a limited extent (other than in matters concerning the budget). The Sultan had total executive authority and could appoint and dismiss ministers. Conditions listed in the Constitution also stipulated that in order to become a minister, one must have obtained the confidence of the Sultan.
Although the Constitution did not give Parliament the authority to dismiss ministers, it granted Parliament the right to send ministers to the Supreme Court (Divan-i Ali) . The Sultan dissolved Parliament on June 28, 1877, after Parliament had sent some ministers to the Supreme Court for trial.
The second Parliament, elected in January 1878 as stipulated by the Constitution, removed the Grand Vizier from his post in the first days after Parliament had been convened although it did not have the authority to do so. Therefore, the Sultan announced on February 14, 1878, that the Assembly was to be adjourned for a non-determined period, and Kanun-i Esasi was abrogated.
The Constitution (Kanun-i Esasi) was reinstated on July 23, 1908, after the officers who were members of theİttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti ( Society for Union and Progress) and the troops under their command had begun a revolt in Selanik (Thessalonica), demanding that the Sultan reinstate the Constitution.
The elections held in November and December secured a majority for the Society for Union and Progress (SUP) in Parliament. The new Meclis-i Umumi was opened on Dec 17, 1908. This period was truly dominated by the Society for Union and Progress.
Political and social upheaval continued during this period. An important and massive protest against the SUP in Istanbul was suppressed by the army located in Macedonia on April 15. After this event, Parliament removed Sultan Abdülhamid from the throne on April 27, 1909, and he was succeeded by his brother, Mehmet Reşad.
The first chamber (Meclis-i Mebusan) was summoned in July 1909, and some of the provisions of the Constitution were amended on August 8, 1909. The amendments to the Constitution made the government and ministers accountable to Parliament and limited the Sultan’s power to dissolve Parliament.
There were seven constitutional amendments during the Second Constitutional Monarchy. However, stability could not be sustained and all the parliaments were dissolved.
After the First World War, The Armistice of Mudros was signed on October 30, 1918. This treaty opened the way to the Entente Powers’ invasion and parceling out of Ottoman territory. In response, the Anatolian people established a number of independent organizations that were to struggle for the independence of the country.
Mustafa Kemal Pasha led the resistance movement in Anatolia, and with his arrival in Samsun in May 1919, the movement gained power and speed.
While the independence war was waging, Istanbul was invaded on March 16, 1920. Shortly thereafter, the Sultan dissolved Parliament on April 2, 1920, after Parliament had adjourned its proceedings.
The dissolution of the Meclis-i Mebusan opened the way for a new parliament in Anatolia. A communique sent by Mustafa Kemal Pasha on March 19, 1920, announced that elections were to be held throughout the country in order to convene a new parliament that would have extraordinary powers. It also stated that this parliament would convene in Ankara. In addition, the members of the dissolved parliament were called to become the members of the new parliament.
After the elections, the new parliament, consisting of members elected from the provinces and a group of members from Meclis-i Mebusan, was opened on April 23, 1920. Although there was a total of 324 members of Parliament, only 115 members were able to attend the first meeting.
The first meeting of Parliament was presided over by Şerif Bey, the deputy for Sinop, and he used the phrase “Grand National Assembly” in his opening speech. The Cabinet decree on “the Composition of the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye”, dated February 8, 1921, named the Assembly the “Grand National Assembly of Türkiye.”
The Assembly acted as the constituent assembly, which enjoyed legislative and executive powers. Mustafa Kemal Pasha was elected as the Speaker at the second sitting day of the Assembly. A provisional Executive Committee headed by Mustafa Kemal Pasha was formed on April 25, 1920. The Law on Treason was adopted and stated that “the objective of the Assembly is to rescue the country, khalifet and monarch from the foreign invaders.” Those who opposed this law were considered traitors. On May 2, the Law on the Election of the Members of the Cabinet, which envisaged the government of the Assembly, was adopted. It was based on the unity-of-powers principle.
The 1921 Constitution was adopted by the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye on January 20, 1921.
Adopted under exceptional circumstances, the 1921 Constitution was based on the framework of democratic principles. The 1921 Constitution consisted of 24 articles and the first nine articles dealt with the fundamental principles on which the state was based.
According to the Constitution, sovereignty belongs to the nation without any reservation and limitation; the legislative and executive powers are vested in the Assembly; and the Speaker, elected by the Assembly, shall act as the ex officio president of the Council of Ministers.
At the request of Mustafa Kemal Pasha, an early election was held in April 1923. The newly formed government resigned due to a disagreement with the Assembly. Mustafa Kemal Pasha, taking advantage of the governmental crisis, suggested to Parliament that a republic form of government be proclaimed . The majority of Parliament supported this proposal and on October 29, 1923, it was proclaimed that the form of government would be republican. Mustafa Kemal Pasha became the first President, and İsmet Pasha (İnonü) became the first Prime Minister of the new Turkish Republic.
Parliament, renewed in the middle of 1923, took the decision to create a new constitution at the beginning of 1924. The new Constitution, which consisted of 105 articles, was adopted by a majority of the Assembly on April 20, 1924.
In the 1924 Constitution, the state system was fundamentally the same as that of the previous Constitution. The parliamentary system was adopted in terms of the method of forming the government and collective responsibility. The legislative and executive powers were vested in the Assembly and the Assembly was given the right to remove the government at any time. In contrast, the government did not have the right to dissolve the Assembly. However, the President and the Council of Ministers were granted executive powers.
According to the 1924 Constitution, everyone had inalienable equality before the law; torture and cruel or unusual punishment were forbidden; personal freedom, freedom of conscience and religion, as well as freedom of thought and expression were guaranteed in addition to all civilian and political rights and freedoms. However, there were no provisions on economic and social rights.
On April 10, 1928, the provision stating that the official religion of the state would be Islam was removed. The amendment on December 5, 1934, gave women the right to vote and to be elected. On February 5, 1937, the state was described as “republican, national, populist, statist, reformist and laic” in the Constitution.
After the military forces intervened in the country’s political life on May 27, 1960, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, President Celal Bayar, and all the ministers and members of the Assembly were arrested. The Assembly was adjourned. The Committee of National Unity, CNU (Milli Birlik Komitesi), assumed all the powers of the Assembly by a provisional constitution and began to run the country. Executive power was used by ministers appointed by the CNU.
The members of the CNU began to work on a new and comprehensive constitution. The Constituent Assembly (Kurucu Meclis), composed of members of the CNU and the members of the House of Representatives, was established to draft a new constitution on January 6, 1961. The House of Representatives consisted of those appointed by the CNU, representatives designated by two parties of that time (Republican People’s Party and Republican Villagers’ National Party), and representatives of various professional associations.
The constitutional text drafted by the Constituent Assembly was presented to referendum on July 9, 1961, and was accepted by 61.17% of the voters. The 1961 Constitution stipulated a typical parliamentarian system. According to the Constitution, Parliament was bicameral. The legislative power was vested in the House of Representatives and the Senate, while the executive authority was vested in the President and the Council of Ministers. The Constitution envisaged a Constitutional Court.
The 1961 Constitution regulated fundamental rights and freedom, including economic and social rights, over a wide spectrum and adopted the principles of a democratic social state and the rule of law. The 1961 Constitution underwent many comprehensive changes after the military memorandum of March 12, 1971, but continued to be in force until the military coup of 1980.
The country underwent a military coup on September 12, 1980. The Constitution was suspended and political parties were dissolved.
The military power ruling the country established a “Constituent Assembly”, as had been done in 1961. The Constituent Assembly was composed of the National Security Council and the Advisory Assembly. Within two years, the new constitution was drafted and presented to referendum on November 7, 1982. As a result of the referendum, the 1982 Constitution was passed with 91.37% of the votes.
One of the greatest changes brought about by the 1982 Constitution was the unicameral parliamentary system.
The 1982 Constitution, from the time it was accepted until the present time, has undergone many amendments. One of the most comprehensive amendment in the 1982 Constitution was made in 2017. With this amendment, Türkiye passed to presidential system of government from parliamentary system of government. With elections held on 24 June 2018, the new system came into force in Türkiye.