T HE European Union (EU) has expressed concern about the introduction of emergency measures and the continuing detention of thousands of perceived military collaborators in the wake of the recent failed attempt by a segment of the Army to take over the government of Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has argued that it needs the emergency powers in order to go after and rid all government institutions of the influence of anti-democratic elements who must have supported the coup attempt. But there are suspicions that the government is using the failed coup attempt to further silence its opponents and impose a more draconian rule on the country.
Given that the government has said it has purged and perhaps detained more than 50, 000 people as part of its post-coup activities, it is difficult not to read some level of deliberateness into the current purge. Indeed, the EU is of the opinion that the wide and massive nature of the purge gives a sense that this was pre-planned, suggesting that the government already had some lists to be used at certain stages. This would look like a credible position given that the government has spoken of the purge of more than 21, 000 teachers and over 15, 000 Education Ministry staff and it would be interesting to know how the government and its intelligence agencies are able to compile the names of thousands to be purged within such a short time even when they were caught unawares by the coup attempt.
To be sure, the Turkish government is right in being against the failed attempt by the military to take over the government illegally as this would be a violent disruption of the country’s democratic processes. The reality in the world is that in spite of the known weaknesses of the democratic system of government, it is still the preferable option that affords the people a measure of interest and control of the processes of governance. The military would be going against the people to have imposed their own rule on the country, as there is no provision for the people in a military government. The people were, therefore, right to have opposed and resisted the military take over of the government, and this courageous position by the people ought to have bolstered the interest and conviction of the Erdogan government in the superiority of democratic ideals and conditioned its reaction in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt.
There had been complaints about the undemocratic tilting of the Erdogan government towards a more Islamic country in spite of its famed guarantee of secularity. And some minority groups have also voiced allegations about the tyranny of the majority in the way opposition voices are treated in Turkey. These are legitimate concerns that should have engaged the attention of the government even as it seeks to remove the plank for such military adventure in the future. The people of Turkey have shown their preference for democracy the way they stoutly defended the government against the military adventurers. Yet, it has to be recognised that the people who took to the streets against the coup included opponents of President Erdogan who still felt compelled to defend his government. This represented the ultimate justification of democracy in Turkey and should ensure that the government functions for all the people and not just its supporters.
The current purge by the Erdogan government gives the impression that Turkish democracy would be for only the government’s supporters. This is not just unfortunate, but sends the wrong signals about further divisions and polarisation in the country. When divisions are concretised instead of being addressed, tensions continue, and provide the basis for further instability. Indeed, the current steps by the Erdogan government would smack more of militarisation as people are not afforded the advantage of basic human rights processes before they are lumped with those to be purged. This is another form of militarisation. Yet, it would be absurd to use militarisation as the response to the failed military coup. The Turks would not have risked their lives on the streets to resist the military if they knew that more militarisation would be the end result.
The bottom line therefore is for the Erdogan government to rise above the simplistic desire to use the failed coup attempt to get back at its opponents and silence the opposition. The government needs all Turks to be on deck in order to ensure that the whole country continues to see the overwhelming benefit of democracy. Turkey needs a united front going forward and this is not helped by any purge that has a hint of being directed at opponents. What is important is for the government to be much more accommodating and show that it is truly interested in promoting inclusive democracy which would be the only viable antidote to military adventurism.