Turkey’s is a classic case of a coup-prone political system. The military is a relatively autonomous and popular institution. It has in the past toppled civilian governments four times. There had always been tension between the ruling elite and the military establishment. But the relatively stable rule of the Justice and Development Party since 2002 and the popularity of its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan had projected a picture of military coups having become a thing of the past. The developments that unfolded on Friday and Saturday bust this myth. Even President Erdogan didn’t foresee the attempt. His success in taking back the reins of government is good for both Turkey and the larger West Asian region. Turkey is important for regional security at a time when West Asia is in turmoil. Instability here is in nobody’s interest. However, the failed coup exposes the weakness of Mr. Erdogan’s regime. The fact that it was not a minor revolt by a few soldiers, but an uprising by thousands of troops, raises serious questions about the coherence of the Turkish state. Mr. Erdogan has contributed to the weakening of the state in many ways: his disastrous foreign policy that has worsened the security situation; forced Islamisation that has sharpened the contradiction between the Islamist and secular sections; and the push to rewrite the Constitution to award more powers to himself.
The coup-plotters may have sensed they would get support from the anti-Erdogan masses and the secular political class. Sections of the population have problems with Mr. Erdogan’s politics. At Istanbul’s Gezi Park, thousands braved his brutal police force in 2013. Despite the government crackdown on liberal academia, opposition, media and social networks, Turkey still has a thriving public sphere where anti-Erdoganism is a common theme for mobilising people. But they don’t want the soldiers to “solve” their problem through force. That is why thousands thronged the streets to defend the government they had elected. That is why even Mr. Erdogan’s fiercest critics in the opposition denounced the coup. The question now is how the fissures that have been exposed will impact Turkey. It depends, in large measure, on the choices Mr. Erdogan makes. He could see the people’s commitment to democracy and use the crisis as an opportunity to reconsider his dictatorial policies. Or he could use the military revolt as a pretext to purge more of his enemies and get what he always wanted, which is a more powerful executive presidency. His choice will guide the future of Turkey’s democracy.
Keywords: Coup in Turkey, Erdogan, Turkey political system, Turkish military
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