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Turkey’s democracy

Jul 19,2017 - Last updated at Jul 19,2017

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan marked the first anniversary of last year's failed July 15 coup by sacking 7,563 soldiers and police officers.

This action added to the 150,000 military and intelligence personnel, civil servants, judges, prosecutors, teachers, professors and media professionals dismissed from their jobs, and the 50,000 detained since then.

Erdogan also spoke of opponents as traitors and threatened to reintroduce the death penalty, with decapitations for those convicted of capital crimes.

A year ago, Erdogan proclaimed the coup a "gift from God" on July 17, when it was clear the putschists had failed, and proceeded to crack down on all opponents to and critics of  his one-man rule, dividing rather than uniting the country.

Erdogan promised a "new Turkey" and has systematically moved ahead with the roadmap he set for himself and his Justice and Development party (AKP).

The party won a parliamentary majority in the 2002 election and formed Turkey's first single party government since 1987.

This enabled Erdogan to dominate the scene and side-line the secular political parties, notably the Republican Turkish party which had been in and out of power for decades.

After becoming prime minister in 2003, Erdogan pursued Turkish membership of the EU, liberalised the economy and issued a series of reforms with the aim of achieving accession.

Erdogan and the AKP were seen in the West as moderate Muslims with a democratic agenda and an example to be followed by other Muslim countries.

His pursuit of EU entry, however, was obstructed in 2005 by the opposition of key EU members.

The notion that Turkey could, eventually, join the European bloc has always been false, because Germany, France and the Netherlands do not want to admit 80 million Turks.

Erdogan realised this.

While keeping up the fiction and pursuing Turkey's EU bid, he attempted to turn towards this region, with dreadful results — Syrian and Kurdish warfare being the most deadly and destructive.

In 2007, Erdogan's plan to elevate to presidency the AKP's Abdullah Gul came up against opposition from the powerful military, which had been made "guarantor" of Turkey's secular character by the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The AKP won 47 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary election, strengthened its hold on power and appointed Gul.

An alleged military plot, dubbed Ergenekon, to overthrow the government was discovered and countered, enabling Erdogan to root out what Turkey's "deep state" included of military officers, intelligence and civilian officials and other leading figures.

However, after six years of investigation and numerous prosecutions, the evidence was found to be flimsy or unsafe.

But by that time, Erdogan had dismissed and detained senior military officers with the aim of preventing the armed forces from intervening with a coup as they had done on four earlier occasions.

Having incapacitated the military, Erdogan promoted faith-based policies at odds with the country's secularism.

By 2010, the AKP had revealed its authoritarian bent, and in 2013, began to pursue a strategy of polarising Turkish society between the party's conservative, devout constituency and the secular "Kemalists" wedded to the system designed by Ataturk.

The result is an even split between the two camps.

Undermined by corruption, nepotism and mismanagement, AKP rule was challenged in December 2013 by the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a moderately fundamentalist cleric based in the US who protested graft in Erdogan's entourage.

Gulen, who has a massive following in Turkey and elsewhere due to a network of schools and welfare facilities, had been Erdogan's ally.

Erdogan turned against the Gulenists and in 2014, got himself elected president with the object of pursuing his drive to secure power and transform the Turkish state from a secular parliamentary democracy (with bouts of military rule) into a Muslim Brotherhood-style state.

Erdogan alienated Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf by promoting the Muslim Brotherhood and giving sanctuary to Brotherhood members who fled their home countries.

The clumsy July 2016 coup has enabled Erdogan to eradicate the Gulenists and their power, as well as crush leftist, Kurdish, and secular opposition under his rule and his plans for Turkey.

While Erdogan and his backers claim they have rescued Turkey from antidemocratic forces, this is a false claim.

He and the AKP are responsible for the destruction of Turkey's flawed democracy.

The tool they have employed to destroy democracy is democracy itself via the ballot box.

When, in the June 2015 parliamentary election, the AKP lost its control of parliament, Erdogan called a snap election for that November which restored the AKP's majority.

The referendum held in April on constitutional changes intended to transform Turkey from a  parliamentary to a presidential system of governance also provides for the destruction of checks and balances — the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers — giving the president near total authority.

Until Erdogan's advent, Turkey had its own unique checks and balances: an array of political parties in parliament; the military; the judiciary; the powerful bureaucracy; a vibrant press; and the Gulenists.

Erdogan has systematically eliminated each one, diminishing Turkish democracy to a shadow.

Erdogan made clear his attitude towards democracy when he stated that it is "a vehicle, not a goal". He promised to ride the bus or train to democracy before getting off.


With the November 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections, Erdogan may reach his destination: an increasingly fundamentalist Turkey ruled by him until at least 2029, and, perhaps, 2034.

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