KANUN-I ESASI (23rd February of 1876)

This was the constitution, laying foundations of the constitutional government and defining the passing from the absolute monarchy to the constitutional monarchy.

While the Ottoman State was preparing for another war with Russia, Sultan Abdulhamid II had ascended the throne (31st August of 1876). This was a period of internal and external confusions. Grand vizier Mehmet Rustu Pasha resigned. So, Abdulhamid had to appoint Mithat Pasha into this duty.

Mithat Pasha supported the constitutional regime as he promised to the European States, and he claimed that only with this transformation, the international conferences and similar interventions could be hindered. Sultan, instead of Mithat Pasha’s constitution draft, translated the French constitution and prepared another draft. This draft was studied and translated by a committee and with the State Council’s approval it was declared by Sultan’s firman (23rd December 1876).

Kanun-i Esasi, stemming not from a representative organ but from the supreme authority of the Sultan. Although, it was designed for a constitutional regime, it gave the priority to the traditional principles and institution the Ottoman monarchy. The right of sultanate belonged to the Ottoman family and this was under the guarantee of the society. Sultan had his traditional authority. The legal religion was Islam, the sultan was the caliph and he was responsible to apply the Islamic (sheria) laws. The laws could not have contrasted with the religious rules; the office of sheikulislam and the sheriat courts were very influential in the constitution.

The system of Kanun-i Esasi was not dividing the authorities of the legislation and the execution clearly. The sultan’s superiority was the principle. The Sultan appointed the grand vizier, ministers and the Sheikulislam. The deputies were responsible for the Sultan not for the parliament. The sultan had the authority to decide the annulment of Meclis-i Umumi (the Parliament). He chose the deputies.

The personality of the sultan was sacred; he was not under the legal or penal responsibility because of his behaviours and his actions; even a loyalty promise to the constitution was not demanded from him. The elected members of the parliament are responsible to protect the sultan’s authority.

The council for its agenda and for its decisions should take the permission of the Sultan.

Kanun-i Esasi can not be named as a constitution. However, it contributed to the Ottoman administrative structure with its formation of a legislative and a representative parliament. The human rights and the independence of the courts were focused for the first time.

The legislation body, suggested by Kanun-i Esasi was applied for only five months, between the 19th March of 1877 and the 16th February of 1878. A reaction aroused from the conservative groups and the sultan himself, because of its critical attitude. Thus, the war between Russia and the Ottomans became a primary problem for Abdulhamid II and he suspended the Meclis-i Umumi (parliament) and he never called Meclis-i Umumi to a assembly although Kanun-i Esasi was in the service, had not been carried out until 1908.

In 1908 Kanun-i Esasi was issued again with the declaration of the second constitution. After, the Event of 31 March, it was renovated (22nd August of 1909). 21 articles were changed and three new articles were added and a real constitutional and parliamentary system was established. With these differences the sultan was obliged to be loyal to the constitution. The government was responsible not for the sultan but for the parliament. Government and Heyet-i Mebusan (parliament) gained an independent position, the relations of legislation and execution were regulated in balance. The principal of division of powers was accepted; the absolute supremacy of the sultan was abolished. Moreover, some liberties were recognised such as the right of party establishment and meeting and the article of 113 was removed.

Kanuni Esasi, transferred into different forms during the restless times of second constitutional period. It was not carried out during the government of Party of Union and Progress (Ittihad ve Terakki), which became active especially after the First World War. In 1921, with Teskilat-i Esasiye laws accepted during the independence war, Kanun-i Esasi was abolished.


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