This paper proposes an alternative reading of constitutions in Turkey to critically engage with the analysis of Turkey as a case for authoritarian constitutionalism. Focusing on the history of constitutions, I argue that constitutions in Turkey are cases for unconstitutionalist constitutions, rather than authoritarian constitutionalism. The correction I aim to make regarding Turkey’s constitutional history can especially be possible when we think constitutionalism more than the limitation of power but also the opposite of arbitrary rule. Arbitrariness through the notion of necessity has been kept as an always-available in the constitutions. The constitutional history in Turkey might give the impression of the existence of constitutionalism because of the insistence on the constitutional form of government. However, it is also the history of either to violate or replace the constitution when the rulers encounter political opposition to their hegemony.
This paper grounded on the literature on authoritarian constitutionalism and the institutional research program on authoritarian institutions, sketches out the dimensions of presidential power in Turkey in light of the 2017 constitutional amendments. Turkey having transformed its system of government through piecemeal constitutional amendments, did not engage in cohesive constitutional design but crafted a “presidential' system from a weakened parliamentary system. The analysis traces the instruments of presidential power in comparative perspective to explain the politics of institutional change in the context of democratic erosion. Without making any estimation of executive-legislative relations in Turkey in comparison to other countries with presidential systems, the paper stresses that Turkey going through a de-constitutionalization process and gradual “executive aggrandizement”, constitutes a case of authoritarian constitutionalism.
The Constitutional Court of Turkey (CCT) has been playing a significant role in Turkish politics and has strongly impacted the Turkish rule of law system as well as politics and society. The CCT has established a reputation of powerful judicial review, however, it did not develop a similar reputation as an advocate of democratic liberalization. Many scholars argue that the only consistent rationale behind CCT rulings is that it always ruled in favor of the ruling elites against a more egalitarian concept of democracy. Even if a closer analysis of CCT’s rulings over the years puts this diagnosis into perspective, successive generations of Turkish constitutional justices showed a tendency to prioritize state interests over individual rights. By analyzing several key rulings, the paper traces this attitude and highlights possible trajectories behind it. This text analysis helps to better understand the ambivalent signals of the Court in the current phase of (re-)autocratization in Turkey.