Turkey will lose the remnants of democracy to the military coup attempt
Turkish democracy now seems on its death-bed with no major political player in the country having any incentive to prevent its terminal decline. Civil strife is likely to increase in the coming yearsanalysis Updated: Jul 19, 2016 23:20 IST
The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan managed to withstand an attempted coup last week. As soon as the coup failed, the crackdown began. The government moved quickly to arrest at least 6,000 people — mostly military personnel — dismissed nearly 3,000 prosecutors and judges, and sacked a staggering 8,000 police officers in a wholesale gutting of the nation’s military and legal apparatus. Supporters of Erdogan rallied in Istanbul on Sunday and chanted slogans advocating the reauthorisation of the death penalty, abolished in Turkey in 2004, for the coup’s supporters. This has been backed by Erdogan himself, suggesting that “in democracies, whatever the people say has to happen”.
The Turkish government has also accused Washington of directly helping to foment the putsch. Erdogan has claimed the conspirators were loyal to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan has accused of attempting to overthrow the government. A one-time ally of Erdogan, the Gulenists have become rivals in recent years and in May the Turkish government declared them a terrorist organisation. Turkey has demanded that Washington extradite Gulen, something secretary of state John Kerry said is possible if enough evidence against him could be furnished. The Obama Administration has been very critical of the Erdogan regime’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
The Turkish armed forces remain badly divided and it is clear that the country remains far less stable than had been thought. It is expected that Erdogan will use this opportunity to purge the military at all levels. The Turkish government’s response to the failed coup has alarmed both the US and the EU, after it described the plotters as a “cancer” which had to be “cleansed” from public institutions. It is likely that the turmoil in Turkey won’t be good news for the fight against the Islamic State. Washington has long been openly critical of the limited role the Turkish military has played in stopping the flow of foreign fighters into Syria. Turkey could fall foul of NATO’s “requirement with respect to democracy” if it fails to uphold the rule of law in the wake of an attempted coup, Kerry has warned.
For Europe, this crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time. The European Union is fraying at the edges and this is likely to further exacerbate the situation. Europe, like the US, had long been concerned about Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, and now there is reason to believe that Erdogan will go all out to consolidate his hold over the country. Johannes Hahn, European commissioner for regional affairs, suggested that Erdogan was more than ready for the crackdown. The arrests showed “at least that something has been prepared” because “lists are available already,” Hahn said. European officials also underline that reinstating the death penalty would end consideration for Turkish accession to the European Union.
Turkish democracy now seems on its death-bed with no major political player in the country having any incentive to prevent its terminal decline. Civil strife is likely to increase in the coming years. This can neither be good news for the Turkish people nor for the wider Europe, which is struggling to manage multiple crises staring the continent in its face.
Harsh V Pant is professor of international relations at King’s College, London
The views expressed are personal