Sunday, July 17, 2016

Military Coup Attempt in Turkey Leads to More Authoritarianism

           An attempted coup d’etat by elements of the Turkish military failed over the weekend, as the Islamist authoritarian government crushed it and, as was predictable, has begun to use it as an excuse to purge all suspected political opponents and plunge Turkey into an ever-deeper depth of dictatorship.

            After the First World War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, Turkey was founded as a secular representative republic.  The military’s duty is to safeguard the Turkish Constitution and the secular nature of the Turkish government.  The military has intervened in politics several times over the decades to fulfill its duty, either through coups, after which it then yielded power to civilian authorities to permit elections for a new government, or at least through effective threats of intervention in order to restore Turkey’s constitutional order.  The coup leaders claimed to be serving in this traditional role.    

            The authoritarian Turkish Islamist government has not only arrested thousands of soldiers, but dismissed or arrested thousands of judges.  I had noted the Turkish President’s increasing authoritarianism, including his compromising of the independence of the judiciary, in my post from June of 2015, Islamists Lose Their Majority in the Turkish Parliamentary Elections,  Freedom of the press had also already been compromised before the coup, while dissidents have been arrested or forced into exile.  The coup attempt will strengthen the hand of Turkey’s Islamist President in cracking down on all legitimate political opposition.           

            Some of the media were reporting the restoration to “power” of the Turkish President, but under Turkey’s constitution, the President has little power.  The Prime Minister exercises power.  After serving the maximum constitutional limit of terms as premier, the current President attempted to amend the Constitution to establish a presidential republic, but the voters rejected his power-grab.  Nevertheless, while the President and Prime Minister are currently members of the same Islamist political party, the President has exercised increasingly autocratic power.  As I noted in my post, the voters denied the Islamists a majority, but later were unable to form a coalition among the ethnic Turkish and Kurdish opposition parties, which allowed the Islamists to retain power.  I note the difficulty for any opposition to conduct election campaigns in an authoritarian state.

            Turkey is now demanding the extradition from Pennsylvania of a Muslim cleric it blames for inciting the coup, but the cleric, who advocates for peace and democracy, condemned the coup attempt, as did all four of the major Turkish political parties.  The United States is right to demand proof of crimes from the Turks in order to accept their extradition request. 

Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and hosts an airbase from which the U.S. is launching air strikes against the “Islamic State” terrorist organization in Iraq and SyriaTurkey has long been of great strategic significance as a bridge between Europe and Asia and its navigable waterway between the Black and Mediterranean Seas

Current American policy is not to support military coups, but the U.S. should call upon both sides in such situations to respect liberty and representative government instead of automatically supporting a government that is “democratically” elected, but becomes increasingly authoritarian to the point of being a dictatorship.  If Turkey wants to maintain good relations with the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. and its European allies should call upon the Turkish government, instead of using the coup attempt as a pretext for more authoritarianism, to respect Turkey’s Constitution and to restore liberty.

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