People’s power was seen succeeding in a Muslim nation for the first time against armed forces’ overarching ambitions.
By A Political Analyst
It has happened for the first time in Turkey that people have revolted against the armed forces who made an abortive attempt to depose the democratically-elected government of Turkish President, Recep Teyyip Erdogan. The coup attempt by Kemalist elements in the armed forces on July 15 was thwarted by people, owing allegiance to the ruling AKP party.
It was a Friday. The coup attempt was made around 7-30 pm by a section of generals loyal to the Kemalists. The rebels stationed tanks and armoured vehicles on important bridges, squares and thoroughfares of Istanbul and Ankara. Helicopters began hovering on the skies and radio and TV stations began announcing takeover of reins of the Government by the rebellious section. They also announced suspension of the Constitution and dislodging of President Erdogan, who was holidaying somewhere in the Anatolian region.
Massive Personal Victory
It was well known that AKP’s successes in three consecutive general elections had caused despair among the Kemalists. A general feeling was that the Islamists had thrown deep roots and were not going to be routed through exercise of franchise anytime soon. The re-run of elections in November 2015 had seen the AKP (Turkish acronym of Justice and Development Party) returning to power with 49.5% of the vote and 317 seats. The party won a comfortable majority of 84, while the principal rival CHP retained its main opposition status with 134 seats and 25.4% of the vote. The results were widely seen as a ‘shock’ win for the AKP and was hailed as a massive personal victory for President Erdoğan.
Even as the tanks trundled in the streets and announced clamping of the Martial Law over the nation, Erdogan’s appeal from the resort went viral and the AKP loyalists poured onto the streets braving the tanks and the armoured cars. Such was the outpouring of public opposition that the rebels could not withstand the public fury. Finding popular support, even the much vaster sections of troops loyal to the Government began to counter the rebels and forced them to return to the barracks. As the scale of support tipped to the Government loyalists, the people tore down the uniforms of the rebels and handed them over to authorities. The coup plotters and rebel troops were crushed within 22 hours and restored Erdogan to his seat.
AKP’s First Decisive Win
Dominated by Kemalists in yesteryears, the Turkish armed forces had staged coups successfully and dislodged the democratic governments in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. The last coup in 1997 had seen Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the predecessor of the AKP party being dislodged from power. Following this, his Virtue Party was dissolved. The same elements regrouped in AKP later.
But things have changed since the turn of the century. Kemalist elements have been on retreat since AKP’s first decisive win. They have largely exited the Army either through retirement or were purged for staging smaller attempts to overthrow the government earlier. Meanwhile people loyal to AKP have entered the Army in large numbers and the internal flavor has changed to a larger extent. Larger section of the Army now favour the armed forces staying away from power and defending the country and fighting the insurgency by Kurdish rebels in the south-eastern region bordering with Kurdish dominated areas in Iraq and Iran’s north.
Nearly 250 people were killed in the rebel’s unsuccessful bid to take over the reins of government. Over 6,000 officers and troops have been rounded off for interrogation and legal proceedings are on. It seems a massive purge would rid the Army of even the remnants of the Kemalist elements opposed to democracy thereby largely blotting out prospects of future coups against popular governments.
But Erdogan’s government faces several challenges. The most serious challenge comes from Kurd insurgents and the ISIS, which has been sending suicide bombers’ squads from the northern territories of Iraq and Syria. Turkish bombings over ISIS held areas has angered the blood-thirsty terrorist force to avenge Turkish Government’s no-nonsense approach in dealing with it. Turkey’s relations with Syria do not seem to be anywhere near mending as Bashar Al-Asad’s forces are gaining strength. Turkey’s southern borders are hosting almost five million Syrian refugees. These are of course external challenges faced by Turkey.
But even within, the AKP’s constant success at the husting, has strengthened the fears of AKP turning authoritarian. Erdogan is suspected to be working to usurp more powers for himself and turn the parliamentary system into a Presidential one. The Presidential Palace complex inaugurated in July 2015 has angered wide sections of people. It sprawls over thousands of acres and the built up area alone accounts for three lakh square metres. One fears Erdogan might declare himself lifetime President. Such apprehensions have fuelled rage of followers of Fatehullah Gulen, the mentor for hundreds of thousands of followers of the current ruling party. The AKP would need to address these issues to continue to have popular favour and deliver on its promises.