Turkey is a parliamentary representative democracy. Since its foundation as a republic in 1923, Turkey has developed a strong tradition of secularism. Turkey's constitution governs the legal framework of the country. It sets out the main principles of government and establishes Turkey as a unitary centralized state.
The President of the Republic is the head of state and has a largely ceremonial role. The president is elected for a five-year term by direct elections. Abdullah Gül was elected as president on 28 August 2007, by a popular parliament round of votes, succeeding Ahmet Necdet Sezer.
Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers which make up the government, while the legislative power is vested in the unicameral parliament, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature, and the Constitutional Court is charged with ruling on the conformity of laws and decrees with the constitution. The Council of State is the tribunal of last resort for administrative cases, and the High Court of Appeals for all others.
The prime minister is elected by the parliament through a vote of confidence in the government and is most often the head of the party having the most seats in parliament. The current prime minister is the former mayor of İstanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose conservative Justice and Development Party won an absolute majority of parliamentary seats in the 2002 general elections, organized in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2001, with 34% of the suffrage.
In the 2007 general elections, the AKP received 46.6% of the votes and could defend its majority in parliament. Although the ministers do not have to be members of the parliament, ministers with parliament membership are common in Turkish politics. In 2007, a series of events regarding state secularism and the role of the judiciary in the legislature occurred. These included the controversial presidential election of Abdullah Gül, who in the past had been involved with Islamist parties; and the government's proposal to lift the headscarf ban in universities, which was annulled by the Constitutional Court, leading to a fine and a near ban of the ruling party.
Universal suffrage for both sexes has been applied throughout Turkey since 1933, and every Turkish citizen who has turned 18 years of age has the right to vote. As of 2004, there were 50 registered political parties in the country. The Constitutional Court can strip the public financing of political parties that it deems anti-secular or separatist, or ban their existence altogether.
There are 550 members of parliament who are elected for a four-year term by a party-list proportional representation system from 85 electoral districts which represent the 81 administrative provinces of Turkey (İstanbul is divided into three electoral districts, whereas Ankara and İzmir are divided into two each because of their large populations). To avoid a hung parliament and its excessive political fragmentation, only parties winning at least 10% of the votes cast in a national parliamentary election gain the right to representation in the parliament. Because of this threshold, in the 2007 elections only three parties formally entered the parliament (compared to two in 2002).
Human rights in Turkey have been the subject of much controversy and international condemnation. Between 1998 and 2008 the European Court of Human Rights made more than 1,600 judgements against Turkey for human rights violations, particularly the right to life and freedom from torture. Other issues such as Kurdish rights, women's rights and press freedom have also attracted controversy. Turkey's human rights record continues to be a significant obstacle to future membership of the EU. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Turkish government has waged one of the world's biggest crackdowns on press freedoms. A large number of journalists have been arrested using charges of terrorism and anti-state activities such as the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, while thousands have been investigated on charges such as "denigrating Turkishness" in an effort to sow self-censorship. As of 2012, CPJ identified 76 journalists in jail, including 61 directly held for their published work, more than Iran, Eritrea and China. A former U.S. State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said that the United States had "broad concerns about trends involving intimidation of journalists in Turkey."
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