The Constitution

Turkey Table of Contents

The government of Turkey functions in accordance with the constitution of 1982, which was drafted and adopted during the period of military rule following the September 1980 coup. The National Security Council (NSC--see Glossary), composed of the commanders of the army, navy, air force, and gendarmerie, and headed by the president, established a Consultative Assembly in June 1981 to draft a new constitution. This assembly consisted of 160 members, forty of whom were appointed directly by the NSC and the remaining 120 selected from a list of about 10,000 names compiled with the aid of provincial governors. In July 1982, a fifteen-member constitutional committee of the Consultative Assembly produced a draft that subsequently was amended by the Consultative Assembly and the NSC. The constitution was submitted to a public referendum on November 7 and approved by 91.4 percent of the voters; 91.3 percent of the registered electorate cast ballots. A factor in this high turnout was Provisional Article 16 of the constitution, which stipulated that registered voters who failed to vote would lose their electoral rights for five years.

The 1982 constitution replaced the constitution of 1961, which also had been drafted following a military coup (see The Armed Forces Group and Interim Rule, 1960-61, ch. 1). Under the 1961 constitution, an elaborate system of checks and balances had limited the authority of the government; the powers of the president were curtailed, and individual rights and liberties were given greater emphasis. In contrast, the 1982 constitution expands the authority of the president and circumscribes the exercise of individual and associational rights. The 1982 constitution also limits the role and influence of political parties, which are governed by more detailed and restrictive regulations than under the 1961 document. For example, political parties are required to obtain a minimum percentage of the total vote cast before any candidates on their lists can qualify for seats in the National Assembly. The 1982 constitution also provides for the enactment of electoral laws to regulate the formation of parties and the rules for their participation in elections.

Provisions of the 1982 Constitution

Article 2 of the 1982 constitution stipulates that the Republic of Turkey is a "democratic, secular, and social state governed by the rule of law," respecting human rights and loyal to the political philosophy of Kemal Atatürk. Article 5 vests sovereignty in the nation, stipulating that it is not to be delegated to "any individual, group, or class." The fundamental objective and duty of the state is defined as safeguarding the independence and integrity of the democratic Turkish nation and ensuring "the welfare, peace, and happiness of the individual and society." The constitution divides the powers of the state among the three branches of government. The legislative branch consists of a unicameral parliament, the National Assembly, composed of 400 members (later increased by amendment to 450) elected to five-year terms. The executive branch consists of the president, who is elected to a seven-year term by the National Assembly, and a prime minister, who is appointed by the president from among National Assembly deputies. The prime minister heads the Council of Ministers, members of which are nominated by the prime minister and appointed by the president. The judicial branch is independent of the legislature and the executive.

Like its predecessor, the 1982 constitution includes a detailed bill of rights covering the social, economic, and political rights and liberties of citizens. According to Article 5, all individuals are equal before the law and possess "inherent fundamental rights and freedoms which are inviolable and inalienable." However, articles 10 through 15 authorize the government to restrict individual rights in the interest of safeguarding the "integrity of the state" and "the public interest." The government may impose further limitations on individual rights "in times of war, martial law, or state of emergency."

Articles 28 and 67 of the 1982 constitution stipulate that the individual is entitled to privacy and to freedom of thought and communication, travel, and association; that the physical integrity of the individual must not be violated; that torture and forced labor are prohibited; that all persons have access to the courts and are assumed innocent until proven guilty; that all Turkish citizens over twenty years of age have the right to vote in elections and to take part in referenda; and that the news media are free and not liable to censorship, except by a court order when national security or the "indivisible integrity of the state" are threatened. According to articles 35, 44, and 46, all citizens have the right to own and inherit property. The state is obligated to provide land to landless farmers or to farmers with insufficient land, and, if the public interest so requires, the state may expropriate private property, provided that compensation is paid in advance.

Articles 49 through 54 of the 1982 constitution pertain to labor. The constitution stipulates that it is the right and duty of all people of working age to work and that all have the freedom to work in the field of their choice. The state is given responsibility to take necessary measures to raise the standard of living of workers, to protect them, and to create suitable economic conditions for the prevention of unemployment. Workers have the right to rest and leisure; minors, women, and people with disabilities are to be provided special protection at work. Workers and employers are free to form labor unions and employers' associations without prior permission, but no one may be compelled to join a union or association. Workers are allowed to bargain collectively and to strike, but not in a manner "detrimental to society." General and politically motivated strikes are prohibited.

According to Article 42, primary education is compulsory and free in public schools. Only Turkish may be taught as the primary language, and all schools must follow the principles and reforms of Atatürk. Education is to be based on "contemporary science and education methods" and is provided under the supervision and control of the state. The state provides scholarships and other means of assistance "to enable students of merit lacking financial means to continue their education."

Article 24 guarantees freedom of religion, provided that the exercise of this right does not threaten the "indivisible integrity of the state." No one may be compelled to worship or to participate in religious ceremonies or rites. Primary and secondary schools are required to provide religious instruction under state supervision and control. Secularism, a primary principle of Atatürk's reforms, is reaffirmed in the provision forbidding "even partially basing the fundamental, social, economic, political, and legal order of the state on religious tenets."

Articles 68 and 69 of the 1982 constitution stipulate that citizens may form or join political parties without prior permission from the government. However, political parties must act according to the principles of the constitution and may be dissolved by the Constitutional Court if that body determines that their activities "conflict with the indivisible integrity of the state." Political parties may not have ties with any association, union, or professional organization. Judges, teachers at institutions of higher education, students, civil servants, and members of the armed forces may not join political parties.

Other articles of the constitution obligate citizens to pay taxes and to render national service in the armed forces or elsewhere in the public sector, grant them the right to petition competent authorities and the National Assembly for redress of complaints, and stipulate that the constitutionality of all laws and decrees is subject to review by the Constitutional Court. To amend the constitution, at least one-third of the members of the National Assembly first must propose an amendment. The actual proposal then must win the votes of a two-thirds majority of all members of the assembly. If the amendment is vetoed by the president, the votes of a three-quarters majority of the members are required to override the veto.

The 1982 constitution also included a set of provisional articles, the first of which stipulated that the chair of the NSC and head of state would become president of the republic for seven years following approval of the constitution in a referendum. Another provisional article stipulated that the NSC would be transformed into an advisory Presidential Council after the formation of a civilian government following elections for the National Assembly. This Presidential Council would function for a period of six years and then be dissolved. Yet another provisional article made permanent a 1981 NSC decree that barred more than 200 politicians from joining new political parties or becoming candidates for a period of ten years. Some of the provisional articles were later rescinded.

Once the 1982 constitution had been approved but before it was implemented, the NSC in April 1983 issued a Political Parties Law (Law No. 2820) that placed further restrictions on political activities. This law, which was intended to regulate the formation of political parties in advance of the November 1983 National Assembly elections, stipulates that political organizations cannot be based on class, religion, race, or language distinctions. To qualify for registration, a political party is required to have at least thirty founders, each of whom must be approved by the minister of interior. New political parties are prohibited from claiming to be continuations of any parties in existence before 1980. The law also requires each party to establish organizations in at least half the country's provinces and in one-third of the districts within those provinces. Political parties are prohibited from criticizing the military intervention of September 1980 or the actions or decisions of the NSC. The Political Parties Law empowers the NSC and its successor, the Presidential Council, to investigate all party members and candidates for office and to declare any unsuitable.

Electoral System

The 1982 constitution stipulates that elections are to be held on the basis of free universal suffrage with direct, equal, and secret balloting. Ballots are to be sorted and counted publicly under the supervision of judicial authorities. The Supreme Electoral Council, composed of eleven judges elected by the Court of Appeals (also known as the Court of Cassation) and the Council of State from among their own members, has jurisdiction over all electoral proceedings. The Supreme Electoral Council is empowered to rule in cases of complaints concerning the validity of elections and may declare a particular election invalid. The executive and legislative branches of the government are prohibited from exercising any control over the electoral process.

Prior to the first elections under the new constitution, the NSC issued the Electoral Law of June 1983 (Law No. 2839), which stipulates that only parties obtaining 10 percent or more of the total national vote can be represented in the National Assembly. Law No. 2839 maintains the system of proportional representation on a provincial basis, but subdivides the more populous provinces for electoral purposes so that no single constituency can elect more than seven deputies. Each province automatically is assigned at least one seat, regardless of population. These measures work to the advantage of the larger parties and the rural provinces.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress