A YEAR ago, the people of Turkey stood up to military might and quashed an attempted coup — a resounding triumph in a country where the military has overthrown a number of civilian governments. Since then however, Turkey remains under emergency rule, with critics accusing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of consolidating increasing power and using authoritarian tactics to crush dissent. Of course an elected government has every right to defend itself from extra-constitutional adventures, and change at the top should only come through the ballot box. Given Turkey’s history of military dominance, it is understandable that elected representatives would resist any unconstitutional moves. However, the tactics used by Mr Erdogan’s government since the attempted coup do not reflect a democratic ethos. Speaking on Wednesday, the Turkish president said emergency laws would stay in place till “we no longer need to fight against terrorism”. This indicates that the emergency may last for an open-ended period. In the year since the revolt, thousands have either been dismissed from service or rounded up; this includes government servants, soldiers, journalists and educators. Around 50,000 have been detained while the purge of the armed forces has been most severe, as rogue troops were in the forefront of the attempted coup. Ankara has blamed exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the revolt, a charge Mr Gulen has denied.
While Mr Erdogan and his supporters have managed to secure power, the state should work to lift the emergency and resist moving in a more autocratic direction. The Turkish president won a constitutional referendum in April by a narrow margin, while on Sunday the opposition held a large anti-government gathering in Istanbul. Clearly this indicates there are fissures within Turkish society; instead of using iron-fisted methods to crush all opposition, the Turkish state must work to heal the rifts and allow criticism of its workings. This is essential in a democratic dispensation. The doors must permanently be closed on military intervention in civilian affairs, but this does not mean that the leadership transforms into an elected dictatorship. Turkey is situated in a volatile region, with conflict raging not too far from its borders, while internally the situation is not entirely stable. Considering this state of affairs, while prosecuting those responsible for the revolt, President Erdogan should initiate a policy of reconciliation that tolerates all shades of political opinion and strengthens the democratic system. Alienating large segments of society may only lead to more instability.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2017