Coup, Emergency and Constitutional Referendum: Impacts on the rule of the law in Turkey

Discussion with Dr. Ali Dursun Ulusoy, Professor of Public Law at Ankara University, Former Member of the Council of State of Turkey, UCLA Law Visiting Scholar

In Turkey, the constitutional amendment which were accepted by the Referendum of April 2017 has been made under the conditions of State of Emergency declared following the attempt of Coup d’Etat of July 15, 2016. The amendments have immensely affected Turkey both legally and politically. Some of the provisions were immediately put in force and the rest will go into effect in November 2019. 

The declaration of state of emergency has initially a legitimate basis due to a cruel coup attempt which caused killing of hundreds of civilian. However, a serious criticism has been increasing with regard to such a state of emergency still running nearly on two years and which creats a lot of inquietute in the society.

Through the new amendments, the government has shifted from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Primary and autonomous lawmaking/regulation authority, which is immune and independent from the legislative branch has been granted to the executive branch (i.e. President). Political influence over the judiciary has been expanded. The legal and administrative authorities of the military forces have been weakened. In this context, the constitutional revisions of April 2017 seem, rather than to meet significant social needs and demands, to instead fortify President Erdogan’s capacity to govern the country solitarily in a case where his party cannot reach the majority in Parliament in the next elections. Thus, the question of whether the amendments have fundamentally changed the Turkish political and constitutional regime seems to be an important inquiry to consider.

The performance of the new system wholly depends on the subjective manner of the president or, more precisely, it is reliant on his/her capacity for internalization of modern democratic values such as freedom of expression, separation of powers and the rule of law. Even though it brings theoretically some positive change, the most important weakness of the new system seems to be that it is not concerned with creating non-personal, strong and objective institutions and a stable system, but rather that it was created as subjective and wholly oriented to the personality of the president. In such a system, the substantiation of democracy looks extremely hazardous, raising concerns about several substantive reasons to worry that Turkey could likely enter into a new era of unstable democracy

In spite of a current internal and also international campaign pushing to shift Turkey from Western block to an hazardous Russia side, the profound interest of Western countries as well as of Turkish people undoubtedly is to keep it as a democracy, applied the Western human rights standarts.


Dr. Ali Dursun Ulusoy is Professor of Public Law at Ankara University School of Law. He is a former Member of the Council of State (Danıştay) in Turkey, which is the highest administrative court in the country. He has also served in many senior administrative positions at Ankara Law School, which is one of the most distinguished and prestigious law schools in the country. Professor Ulusoy has served as a Visiting Scholar for the academic year 2017-18 at UCLA School of Law.

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Sponsor(s): International and Comparative Law Program; Center for Near Eastern Studies