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Government and Politics in Turkey

Overview of Turkey

The present constitution was adopted in November 1982 and amended in 1995, 1999, 2001, and 2004. The government is a parliamentary system in which the president is elected by the legislative branch. Power is highly centralized at the national level. Since the adoption of a multiparty system in 1946, most of Turkey’s governments have been coalitions of two or more parties. Many of those governments have been weak and ephemeral. The government chosen in 2002 was the first since 1991 to be formed by a single majority party, the Justice and Development Party. As of late 2005, that party retained strong public support. The military has taken power three times, in 1960, 1971, and 1980. Although in each case elections were held within three years, the military remains an important political force in the early 2000s. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the power of Islamist parties has increased, despite the principle of strictly secular government established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of modern Turkey. The judicial branch is genuinely independent.

Executive Branch in Turkey

The president is elected by the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA, parliament) for a single term of seven years. The last presidential election was in May 2000. The president, who has limited powers and abdicates party membership upon election, appoints the prime minister and has the power to summon sessions of the TGNA, promulgate laws, and ratify international treaties. The president also is commander of the armed forces. The prime minister, who supervises the implementation of government policy, usually is the head of the majority or plurality party of the TGNA. Members of the Council of Ministers, which in 2005 included 22 full ministers and three deputy prime ministers, are nominated by the prime minister and approved by the president. The president also appoints members of the national courts and the heads of the Central Bank and broadcasting organizations, and the president has the power to dissolve the Grand National Assembly. The president presides over the National Security Council, whose members include the prime minister; the chief of the General Staff; the ministers of national defense, interior, and foreign affairs; and the commanders of the branches of the armed forces and the gendarmerie. This powerful body sets national security policy and coordinates all activities related to mobilization and defense.

Legislative Branch in Turkey

Legislative power is exercised by the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), a one-chamber parliament composed of 550 deputies who serve five-year terms. The TGNA writes legislation, supervises the Council of Ministers, and adopts the budget. The TGNA also elects the president, by a two-thirds majority, from among its members. The president can be voted out of office by a vote of three-quarters of TGNA members. The TGNA decides on declaring war, martial law, and emergency rule and approves international agreements. Parliamentary elections are based on proportional representation subject to a national threshold of 10 percent. Members are elected by party lists drawn up by party leaders. Once elected, members have immunity from prosecution. TGNA legislation is developed by specialized commissions. The laws passed by the TGNA are promulgated by the president within 15 days. The president may refer a law back to the assembly for reconsideration.

Judicial Branch in Turkey

The highest court in Turkey is the Constitutional Court, which examines the constitutionality of laws and other government actions. Members of that court are appointed by the president. The Court of Cassation, which is divided into 30 specialized chambers whose members are appointed by a Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (in turn appointed by the president), hears appeals from lower courts. The military court system, whose top level is the Military Court of Appeals, hears only cases related to the military. The Council of State settles administrative cases and offers opinions on laws drafted by the Council of Ministers. A 2004 amendment to the constitution abolished State Security Courts (SSCs), which had been cited for human rights violations as they carried out their function of trying individuals deemed a threat to national interests. However, the special new courts appointed to replace the SSCs received similar powers.

Administrative Divisions of Turkey

Turkey is divided into 81 provinces (iller; sing., il), which in turn are divided into districts and sub-districts. Provinces have an average of eight districts each. Sixteen large metropolitan municipalities, about 3,200 smaller towns, and about 50,000 villages have their own local governments.

Provincial and Local Government

The provinces are administered by governors, who are appointed by the Council of Ministers with the approval of the president. The governors function as the principal agents of the central government and report to the Ministry of Interior. Districts are administered by sub-governors. Provinces, districts, and local jurisdictions also have directly elected councils. Although local jurisdictions have gained political powers since 1980, the system remains highly centralized. The national government oversees elected local councils in order to ensure the effective provision of local services and to safeguard the public interest; the minister of interior is empowered to remove from office local administrators who are being investigated or prosecuted for offenses related to their duties. Several ministries of the national government have offices at the provincial and district levels. An autonomous local administration exists at the level of municipalities, which elect a mayor and a municipal council. In the villages, the village assembly elects a council of elders and a village headman.

Judicial and Legal System in Turkey

When the Republic of Turkey was established, the Islamic law of the Ottoman Empire was replaced in 1926 with a secular system borrowed from the Swiss and Italian legal codes. The judicial system has been criticized for the influence of the executive branch, particularly the National Security Council, over adjudication of certain cases. Also criticized is the membership of the minister of justice, a member of the executive branch, on the powerful Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors, whose functions of overseeing the lower courts and choosing judges have no review mechanism. Prosecutors have wide authority in the investigation of cases. All cases are heard by judges, not by juries. Every province has one penal and at least one civil court, each consisting of one judge, to hear routine cases. Central criminal courts, of which Turkey has 172, hear more serious criminal cases. Those courts consist of a judicial panel of three. In 2002 Turkey abolished application of the death penalty in peacetime. A new penal code, responding to some but not all of the membership requirements of the European Union (EU), was approved in September 2004.

Electoral System in Turkey

Suffrage is universal for citizens 18 years of age and older. Only parliamentary delegates and local governments are elected directly. The Grand National Assembly elects the president, who must receive two-thirds of assembly votes to be elected in the first or second round of voting. If a third round of voting is necessary, a simple majority is acceptable. Direct parliamentary and local elections are held (separately) every five years, but the president or the Grand National Assembly can declare elections at an earlier date. In the 2002 parliamentary elections, which were judged to be fair by international observers, the Justice and Development Party won a majority of seats and formed a one-party government on that basis.

Political Parties in Turkey

Turkey has had a multiparty system since 1946. In 2005 some 49 official parties were in operation. The existence and alignments of Turkey’s political parties have been fleeting, although the Republican People’s Party, founded by Atatürk in 1923, retained substantial power in 2005. After the parliamentary elections of 2002 caused a major shift in party strength, only two parties—the Republican People’s Party and the Justice and Development Party—held seats in parliament. The latter party held the majority, and in 2003 its head, Tayyip Erdoğan, was named prime minister. Nine seats were held nominally by independents, who in fact represented Islamic parties. Party representation in the Grand National Assembly is proportional to total votes received by a party’s candidates, but those candidates must receive at least 10 percent of the total vote for the party to be represented. The officially unrepresented parties receiving the most votes in the 2002 elections were the center-right True Path Party, the conservative Nationalist Action Party, the nationalist Youth Party, the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party, the moderate Motherland Party, and the Islamic fundamentalist Felicity Party.

Mass Media in Turkey

Turkey has a wide variety of domestic and foreign periodicals expressing diverse views, and domestic newspapers are extremely competitive. The media exert a strong influence on public opinion. The most popular daily newspapers are Sabah, Hürriyet, Milliyet, Zaman, and Yeni Asir. Of those titles, Milliyet (630,000) and Sabah (550,000) have the largest circulation. Milliyet and the daily Cumhuriyet are among the most respected serious newspapers. Most newspapers are based in Istanbul, with simultaneous Ankara and İzmir editions. The broadcast media have very wide dispersion because satellite dishes and cable systems are widely available. The High Board of Radio and Television is the government body overseeing the broadcast media. Media ownership is concentrated among large private companies, a factor that limits the views that are presented. The largest such operator is the Dogan group, which in 2003 received 40 percent of the advertising revenue from newspapers and broadcast media in Turkey. In 2003 a total of 257 television stations and 1,100 radio stations were licensed to operate, and others operated without licenses. Of those licensed, 16 television and 36 radio stations reached national audiences. In 2003 some 22.9 million televisions and 11.3 million radios were in service. Aside from Turkish, the state television network offers some programs in Arabic, Circassian, Kurdish, and Zaza.

Foreign Relations of Turkey

In 2004 the center of Turkey’s foreign relations remained the United States and Western Europe. Relations with Greece, a long-time antagonist, began to improve in 1999. Although the two countries’ fundamental dispute over Cyprus still was unresolved, in 2004 Turkey gained Greece’s support and the endorsement of the Council of Europe for membership in the European Union (EU), pending negotiation of a series of domestic reforms. Relations with the United States, close since the beginning of the Cold War, were damaged in 2003 when Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to cross into Iraq from Turkey. The United States canceled a major aid package, which later was restored in a smaller form. Relations improved in 2004 and 2005, and the United States continued advocating Turkey’s membership in the EU.

In the 1990s, Turkey developed economic relationships with the Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—and economic and military relations with Russia improved dramatically. Beginning in the mid-1990s, relations with Israel have been unusually close, based mainly on Israeli military and security assistance. In the early 2000s, Turkey has cultivated closer relations with Syria, although a dispute remains over distribution of water from the Euphrates River. Close relations have not been established with Iran, aside from a natural gas supply agreement. Despite reservations about Kurdish autonomy in Iraq, in 2005 Turkey expressed readiness to establish relations with a new government in that country.

Turkey's Membership in International Organizations

Among the international organizations of which Turkey is a member are the Asian Development Bank, Bank for International Settlements, Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact, Council of Europe, Economic Cooperation Organization, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Court of Human Rights, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Development Association, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Finance Corporation, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization, International Monetary Fund, International Organization for Migration, International Telecommunication Union, Islamic Development Bank, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Nuclear Energy Agency, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Pollution Control Agency, United Nations, United Nations Committee on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations Industrial Development Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Customs Organization, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization. Turkey is an applicant for membership in the European Union.

Major International Treaties

Among the multilateral treaties to which Turkey is a signatory are the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, conventions prohibiting the development, production, stockpiling, and use of biological and chemical weapons (known respectively as the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention), Energy Charter Treaty, Geneva Conventions, Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.









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