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History of Local Governance in Istanbul

The Tanzimat Era 

The first modern municipality-like public body was established in the wake of the Tanzimat perod(the era of fundamental administrative reforms in the Ottoman Empire introduced in 1839). Pre-municipal entities and authorities included religious establishments, guilds and Qadi, who was assisted by several imperial senior officials (chief of constabularies, imam, chief architect). The Qadi not only retained his eminent role as the chief judicial authority but was also given the administrative control over a territory as the representative of the imperial government.

As a result of the Industrial Revolution, while altering the existing production techniques, the traditional local administrative system became incapable of meeting the needs of a better and more sophisticated local government. The brand-new local authority was named “Şehremaneti” (16 August 1855). This new structure was comprised of two bodies, namely the“Şehremini” (meaning “Mayor” in Ottoman Turkish) and the “City Assembly,” both of which were led by appointed chief executives.   

Constitutional Monarchy I-II

One of the first actions of the Meclis-i Mebusan (Imperial General Assembly), which was established with the newly adopted Ottoman Constitution (Kanun-i Esasi) in 1876, was to enact comprehensive public acts for administering the Imperial Capital, Istanbul, and other provinces. The new legislation for Istanbul conceived the Şehremaneti to be composed of 20 municipal departments and the Cemiyet-i Umumiye-i Belediye (General Municipal Assembly) thus enabling the municipalities to become legal entities. In addition, the election of city councilors was in the agenda, but this was never realized due to the pressure of the ill-fated war against the Russians in 1877-1878.

The new administrative structure foreseen by the Municipal Law of 1877 was only introduced in 1908. In the course of restructuring in the Şehremaneti, local elections were held, and the General Municipal Assembly (GMA) convened for the first time.

However, this new structure was dysfunctional from the beginning; and in 1912, a new law, the “Provisional Act on Istanbul Municipal Organization,” was passed. This law re-organized the Şehremaneti as a centralized body. The municipal department model was abolished, and the Şehremaneti was transformed into a single municipal department consisting of nine bureaus. The GMA was replaced by an Executive Council. A director was assigned to each bureau, the organic affiliation of the GMA members with the municipalities was revoked, and the GMA membership was extended to every member of civil society through electoral representation. After the declaration of Meşrutiyet II (restoration of the constitutional monarchy), Istanbul was turned into a province, where the governor’s powers were also transferred to the Şehremini (Mayor) in addition to all his responsibilities for municipal services.

The Republican Era

Throughout the first years of the Republic, the local government structure in Istanbul, set out by the laws promulgated in 1877 and 1912, remained in effect with slight alterations in terminology. For example, Şehremaneti was changed to “belediye” (municipality in modern Turkish) and şehremini to “belediye reisi” (City Chairman/Mayor). Istanbul was divided into ten district municipalities. The year 1930 marked the introduction of a new Local Administration Act which merged municipalities and special provincial administrations. Under the new law, the city leader was commissioned as both the Governor and Mayor of Istanbul. The GMA and the Meclis-i Umumiye-i Vilayet (General Provincial Assembly), which was part of special provincial structure at that time, were replaced by a new body embracing the duties of both of the previous entities. This new entity was called the Istanbul General Assembly and consisted of 68 chairs.  The local elections of October 14, 1930 were followed by the inauguration of the General Assembly on November 6, 1930 by Muhittin Üstündağ, the Chairman of the Assembly and Governor / Mayor of Istanbul.

The Municipal and Provincial Assembly’s jurisdiction was extended to encompass all those formerly belonging to the Municipality and Special Administration. In 1954, the Municipality and the Governorate were detached by Public Act No.6349. Yet the law could not be put into practice until March 1957. Municipal Department Offices were opened in the districts of Beyoğlu, Beşiktaş, Eminönü, Sarıyer, Eyüp, Bakırköy, Adalar, Kadıköy, Şişli, Üsküdar, and Beykoz. However, until 1958 the governor was in charge of both the municipal and provincial administration. These two posts were separated from each other during Kemal Aygün’s term in office.

The coup d’état of May 27, 1960 led to the dissolution of all municipal and provincial administrations, and the military government removed all of the incumbent mayors from their offices and replaced them with the newly appointed ones. Between 1960 and 1963, Istanbul had eight mayors, all of whom were appointed. A new legislation was promulgated on July 27, 1963, which set forth new regulations for local elections. Under this new law, mayors were to be elected with the relative majority of votes cast in direct and equal elections based on secret ballots under universal suffrage. In addition to this, the provision that imposed mayors to obtain either the governor or the president’s approval was abrogated. Eventually, Haşim İşcan became the first elected mayor of Istanbul in the local elections on November 17, 1963.

With the coup d’etat on September 12, 1980, the municipal structure of Istanbul was fundamentally changed. The mayors were removed from their offices and the municipal assemblies were dissolved throughout Turkey as well.

On December 4, 1981, the military government enacted Public Act no.2591 on “The Agglomeration of the settlements around metropolitan areas to the Metropolitan Municipalities.” The municipalities and villages around the metropolises with populations over 300,000 were turned into suburbs or neighborhoods and were united with metropolitan municipalities. Between the years of 1980 and 1984, the military government appointed the mayors of Istanbul.

The 127th article of the Constitution of 1982 was amended in order to allow specially tailored local administration structures for large settlement areas. Decree Law no.3030 concerning “the Administration of Metropolitan Municipalities” entered into force on June 27, 1984. The new legislation created two-tiered municipal structures in Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. Later on, more cities were designated as metropolitan areas, and the number of metropolitan municipalities thereby increased to 16. After being in effect almost for twenty years, Decree Law no.3030 was replaced by Public Act No.5216, which was drafted in the course of substantial reforms in the local government system and was adopted on July 10, 2004. With this law, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s jurisdiction was enlarged to cover all the area within the provincial limits. Furthermore, the number of the district municipalities rose to 32 while the number of First-Level Municipalities became 41.

Finally, under Public Act no.5747, dated March 6, 2008, more quarters were designated as districts, whereas the District of Eminönü became a quarter within the jurisdiction of the District of Fatih. Therefore, the number of district municipalities in Istanbul rose to 39; whereas, the first-level municipalities were abolished.



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