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How Erdogan’s anti-democratic government made Turkey ripe for unrest

- July 16, 2016
People protesting against the coup wave a Turkish flag on top of the monument in Taksim Square in Istanbul. (Emrah Gurel/AP)

On Friday, a part of the Turkish military attempted a coup — and it failed, at great cost. More than 100 members of the military are dead, along with approximately 190 police officers and soldiers loyal to the regime. Over 2,400 military personnel were arrested and 2,745 judges were also removed from their posts by the government. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after calling his supporters into the streets to resist the coup, has reestablished control over the state.

Little is yet known about the exact motivations of the military leaders who attempted the takeover, but one thing is clear: This was not a coup attempt against a democratic regime. Neither the government nor the coup plotters were “true” democrats. This was an illegal attempt to topple a regime that was popularly elected but is stridently anti-democratic in its rule. Under Erdogan’s rule, especially in the past three to four years, Turkish democracy has considerably declined. Academics and intellectuals have been arrested for signing petitions that called on the government to cease its military operations in the Kurdish-dominated South East Anatolia region. Erdogan recently amended the constitution to remove the immunity of about 140 members of the parliament — a move primarily intended to expel Kurdish MPs.

[interstitial_link url=”http://pomeps.org/2016/05/31/crisis-in-turkey-kristin-fabbe-on-pomeps-conversation-69/”]Listen: How the crisis in Turkey has been a long time coming.[/interstitial_link]

Developments in the aftermath of the June and November 2015 parliamentary elections convinced many Turks that it was no longer possible to change the government through democratic and peaceful means.

Erdogan would not recognize the results of June 2015 parliamentary elections in which his ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) lost its parliamentary majority and called for repeat elections in November 2015.

In the meantime, he destroyed the peace process with the Kurdish rebels that he started a few years earlier and launched a major military campaign in the Kurdish cities, which left thousands of people homeless, injured and dead.

The campaign of violence and fear orchestrated by the regime paid off and the ruling party regained its parliamentary majority in November. Since then, Turkish cities have been turned into battle grounds. The army has destroyed towns and villages in the nation’s southeast, while the Islamic State and Democratic Union Party (PYD)/Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) carried out terrorist attacks in the major Turkish towns — killing hundreds of civilians, police and the military personnel.

[interstitial_link url=”http://pomeps.org/2015/06/17/turkeys-democratic-struggles/”]Read More: Turkey’s Democratic Struggles[/interstitial_link]

For many commentators of Turkish politics, last night’s events in Turkey were not a total surprise. The rise of terror, the inability to defeat Erdogan’s AKP government through democratic means, Turkey’s increasing international isolation and the effects of Syrian civil war all contributed to the increasing likelihood of a military takeover.

Despite these trends, it is striking that virtually the entire Turkish political class came together to oppose Friday’s coup. Every major political party condemned it — and what remains of Turkish civil society came out forcefully against it. Despite their strong disapproval of Erdogan’s repressive regime, opposition parties staunchly denounced the coup attempt in belief that military dictatorship was not a desirable alternative to Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.

Erdogan is now more popular than ever. Rising polarization, violence and instability boost Erdogan’s favorability and support among his constituents. It is most likely that the government will want to capitalize on its rising popularity and call for early elections in few months. It will not be a surprise if his party wins a supermajority in an early election that would allow Erdogan to move from amending the constitution to rewriting it — leverage this failed coup as a way to turn Turkey into a full-blown civil dictatorship.

In the ensuing days, we can expect that the regime will become more repressive toward the opposition. The increasing militarization and authoritarianism of the government will further marginalize itself from the international community. The media, universities, intellectuals and political opposition will be penalized. This may also trigger a major exodus of foreign capital from Turkish markets.

Sezgin is the director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program and a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.