Turkish democracy’s nightmare
The deficiencies in Turkey’s democracy cannot be remedied by armed force. The fact that the attempted coup by a section of Turkey’s armed forces failed is to be welcomed; what is not is the death of over 300 people in the conflict and the wounding of over 1,000. Turkey’s military must accept that they are there to serve Turkey’s democratically elected government not some mechanism for passing judgment on that government.
Sadly however the armed forces are not the only threat to Turkish democracy. The increasingly autocratic and erratic Turkish President, Recip Tyyip Erdogan, has been systematically hollowing it out – as we’ve repeatedly highlighted. All elements of civil society including Turkish unions have come under attack. Since Erdogan first became Turkish Prime Minister in 2003, he has ratcheted-up the oppression of all those elements of Turkish society where independent voices can be found.
In an attempt to stifle criticism, the Turkish authorities have used broadly worded anti-terror laws. For example journalists reporting the demands of the Kurdish people can find themselves charged with being a member of a terrorist organisation. It is not only journalists who find themselves in this position. Turkish trade unionists have also fallen foul of these anti-terrorist laws. Since Erdogan became the President in 2014 the Turkish authorities have launched nearly 2,000 lawsuits against people accused of insulting him, including social media postings. For ‘insulting’ (which is perfectly reasonable in a robust democracy) one should nevertheless read merely criticising. Gradually the state has been closing down or taking over every critical media outlet.
Erdogan’s grip on power was further strengthened as recently as May when Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu stepped down. Davutoglu took over as Prime Minister when Erdogan vacated the role to become President. Although nominally in the driving seat under the Turkish constitution, Davutoglu clearly was under the control of Erdogan. Davutoglu’s departure seems to be related to differences between the two men.
It would seem Davutoglu was tiring of his subordinate role and sought to carve out some independent political space. Related to which was his perceived lack of enthusiasm for Erdogan’s desire to turn the Turkish President’s role from a ceremonial one into an executive presidency. In addition, the two men also clashed over whether they should try and revive peace talks with Kurdish militants. Davutoglu was in favour whilst Erdogan ruled out any such intervention saying the government should continue battling the insurgents “..until the last weapon is silenced”. Without pointing any fingers, it is undoubtedly true that Erdogan and his party, the AKP, had electorally benefited from the breakdown of the peace agreement with the Kurds. In the face of bloodshed the electorate turned to a ‘hardman’ for protection.
Unless one is convinced of the most extravagant of conspiracy theories, one must assume that the attempted coup came as a terrible shock to Erdogan. During his first speech, post failed coup, he however described it as a “gift from God”. It is not difficult to discern what he meant by this. He is seizing the opportunity to justify his ever tightening grip on Turkish society. So far over 8,000 people have been arrested. 9,000 police officers have been sacked, 3,000 judges have been suspended, some 1,500 employees of Turkey’s finance ministry have been dismissed and the licenses of 21,000 staff working in private schools were revoked, more than 15,000 employees at the education ministry were sacked, and the state-run higher education council demanded the resignation of 1,577 university deans.
Turkish democracy survived the actions of the military but is being throttled to death, with ever increasing ferocity, by its President.