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Referendums in Turkey: Constitutional Framework, Practice, and Their Inconsistency with the Democratic Practices of Referendums

2022 / vol. 34, no 2, (124)
Digital Edition

Referendums in Turkey

Constitutional Framework, Practice,
and Their Inconsistency with the Democratic Practices of Referendums

İlker Gökhan Şen

Dr.Iur., Senior researcher at the Center on Law and Social Transformation, Faculty of Law, University of Bergen

This essay argues that the constitutional and legal framework of the Turkish referendum regime fails to satisfy the standards set by common practice in democratic states. For this purpose, Section 1 defines the concept of “authoritarian referendum” and briefly highlights the emerging standards of democratic referendums in comparative constitutional law and international documents. Section 2 explores the constitutional and legal framework of referendum in Turkey and the practice from a historical perspective. Finally, Section 3 analyzes and discusses this legal framework and practice according to the democratic standards of referendums. It concludes that Turkish referendum law and practice do not fit the standards, and that referendum in Turkey is yet another example of the authoritarian referendums.

Cet essai soutient que le cadre constitutionnel et juridique du régime turc en matière de référendum ne satisfait pas aux normes établies par la pratique courante dans les Etats démocratiques. A cette fin, la section 1 définit le concept de “référendum autoritaire” et souligne brièvement les normes émergentes des référendums démocratiques dans le droit constitutionnel comparé et les documents internationaux. La section 2 explore le cadre constitutionnel et juridique du référendum en Turquie et sa pratique dans une perspective historique. Enfin, la section 3 analyse et discute ce cadre ju­ridique et cette pratique en fonction des normes démocratiques des référendums. L’essai conclut que le droit et la pratique du référendum en Turquie ne correspondent pas à ces normes et que le référendum en Turquie est un autre exemple de référendum autoritaire.

* I wish to thank Blickwechsel: Contemporary Turkey Studies ( for their financial support, in 2018. In the same framework, this essay draws on research conducted during my fellowship at: projects. Key arguments about Turkey’s referendum regime had been developed in Turkish in my earlier publication (Ilker Gökhan Sen, Doğrudan Demokrasi: Kurumlar, Hukuki ve Siyasi Sorunlar, Oniki Levha, 2013). Parts of this article about authoritarian referendums and emerging standards draw on this earlier publication: Ilker Gökhan Sen, Referendums and Democratic Constitutionalism: Is there a Way for Reconciliation, in: Populism and Democracy, Sascha, Hardt / Heringa, Aalt Willem / Nguyen, Hoai-Thu (Eds.), Eleven publishing, 2020.

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