The constitutional revision of 1909

The new MM initially operated within the rather tight framework set by the 1876 Constitution, which the deputies were determined to change. In January 1909, a parliamentary commission was formed and tasked with making suggestions for a constitutional revision. A failed coup attempt in April 1909 (known in Turkish as the March 31 Incident, the date according to the Julian calendar) provided the CUP with an opportunity to force Abdtilhamit II to resign and replace him with his much more cooperative brother, Mehmet Resat V. Following his enthronement, the MM revised the Constitution, deleting 1 paragraph, adding 3 new ones, and changing 21." The revised text came into force on August 8, 1909.

In a nutshell, the revised Constitution accomplished a “transfer of sovereignty from the Sultan to the nation.”100 The revised text reconfirmed such fundamental principles as personal liberty (art. 10), freedom of the press (art. 12), equality before the law for all Ottomans (art. 17), inviolability of the domicile (art. 22), protection of private property (art. 21), and the ban of torture (art. 26).101 Additions to the 1876 text concerned the privacy of correspondence (art. 119) and the right of assembly for all Ottomans (art. 122). The revision also strengthened the MM considerably: according to the revised text of art. 3, sovereignty continued to rest with the Sultan. However,

(o)n his accession the Sultan shall swear before Parliament, or if Parliament is not sitting, at its first meeting, to respect the visions of the Serial (...) and the Constitution, and to be loyal to the country and the nation.102

The Sultan, whose expenditures, as well as those of the palace, became subject to parliamentary control (art. 6), only retained the right to name the §eyhillislam (the grand mufti, issuer of legal opinions for Istanbul and cabinet member) and the Grand Vizier.103 Such important decisions as the making of peace, the declaration of war, and the conclusion of international treaties could still be made by the Sultan and his Grand Vizier, but now required approval by the General Assembly (i.e., by both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies) (art. 7). The Sultan’s absolute veto right was turned into a suspending one (art. 54), and it became possible for the Chamber of Deputies to insist on a bill (or its rejection) even against the

Ottoman parliamentary procedure 231 cabinet (art. 35).104 Ministers became responsible to the Chamber of Deputies, both collectively and personally (art. 30). Both chambers could now propose bills, which would be sent to the respective other chamber, and, if approved, from there to the Sultan. The article describes his task merely as “confirming” the bill, the State Council is no longer mentioned at all (art. 53). The session period of the MM (previously November till the end of February) was extended to November - end of April every year (art. 43).

Changes to the articles dealing with changes to the Constitution (art. 116) and with the range of authority of courts were proposed, but not approved by the necessary two-thirds majority.105 Some other changes, such as that to have some of the senators elected, were not approved by the Senate.106 One lone deputy proposed that not only the male half of a district’s population should be represented by a deputy, and that the number of people represented per deputy should be raised to 100,000 accordingly. Such a change would not have introduced female suffrage (the election law clearly limited the vote to males)107 but the other deputies reacted as if it did, refusing to consider such a change.108

 
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