Failed military coup to lead to executive presidency

  • 22 Jul 2016 15:13

Article written by Junior Analyst, Laurence Clare published 22/07/16


Failed military coup to lead to executive presidency

In the wake of a failed coup attempt by factions within the Turkish military on 15 July, the security situation across Turkey has stabilised as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government asserts its power over state institutions. In response to the attempted overthrow of the elected government by a substantial faction within the army, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the arrest or suspension of some 60,000 alleged plotters, primarily members of the armed forces, judiciary, security services, civil servants and teachers. Foreign governments have voiced their concern about the implications for Turkish democracy and human rights as the purge gathers pace, not least with Erdogan pledging to re-introduce the death penalty, which would bar the path to EU membership. Even if President Erdogan eventually chooses to rein back the witch hunt, it will only be after he has established the long-sought executive presidency, institutionalising the political system as an electoral dictatorship.

At least 265 people were killed during the military coup, which began late on Friday 15 July. Around 161 of those killed are thought to have been civilians shot by soldiers, with the remainder troops and police officers who fought one another at key sites in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. The speed and coordinated nature of the attempted putsch was indicative of a well-planned operation, apparently organised by mid-ranking officers within the air force and gendarmerie. Military units, including tanks and armed ground forces, quickly established control over key transport hubs and critical infrastructure, closing both major bridges in Istanbul and blocking access to the country’s major airports.

At the same time, commandos launched a raid on the hotel in Marmaris at which Erdogan was on holiday, only to narrowly miss the president, who had been moved to another hotel as a precaution after suspicious troop movements in Istanbul. The events of the dramatic evening appear to have turned on the decision of a fighter squadron that had the presidential jet locked on its targeting system, only to hold fire upon being told on the radio that the aircraft was a Turkish Airlines flight. In practice, the coup had failed as soon as President Erdogan appeared on television via a reporter’s smartphone, calling on the people to take to the streets. Encouraged by mosques, massive crowds promptly overwhelmed the soldiers, allowing police to arrest those responsible and restore government control. 

The AKP government blames the coup on the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based religious teacher who heads a massive network of charter schools. Once a critical ally of the AKP as it rose to power as Gulen’s followers were injected into the military after 2003 to dilute its secular identity, Erdogan fell out with the movement in recent years. Most of all, hostility emerged out of the corruption investigations of 2013, when Gulenists within the police and judiciary launched massive raids on senior figures in the AKP government, temporarily threatening the AKP’s dominance at the same time as the Gezi Park protest movement. In response to his network’s alleged involvement in the failed coup, Turkey has filed an extradition order for Gulen, who denies any involvement. Whether the US choses to grant the extradition request will depend on the standard of the evidence of his involvement, as presented to the US judicial system. Any delay will add to the perception in Turkey that Gulen works in close association with the US government to undermine the AKP. 

The coup attempt highlights the extreme disconnect between the Turkish army, with its history of secularism and military interventions, and the AKP government as it continues to deepen its ideological embrace of Islamist identity politics. The motivations driving the attempted overthrow are complex and multi-faceted, but military chiefs had recently expressed concerns over Erdogan’s desire to deploy soldiers to northern Syria outside of a NATO mandate. Without NATO backing, Turkish troops would have been exposed to Russian airstrikes, even as they intervened in a conflict on behalf of a Syrian rebellion that it is largely being fought by an array of Salafi-jihadist groups that are alien to the Turkish army’s secular history. With the army and judiciary as the only state institutions still capable of pushing back against the AKP government in the face of the weakness and division of the elected opposition, it has been fighting a rear-guard struggle to push back against increased involvement in Syria.

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