No Turkish delight

Erdogan’s savage reaction to the attempted coup led some to believe that the coup was a fake, a staged affair

The coup attempt may have briefly shaken Mr Erdogan’s grip on power, but it may also have given him some of the legitimacy he needs to pursue his goals
The coup attempt may have briefly shaken Mr Erdogan’s grip on power, but it may also have given him some of the legitimacy he needs to pursue his goals

The news of the attempted coup in Turkey the other weekend surprised me, even though a lot of people were becoming wary of the dictatorial way President Erdogan was running the country.

Modern day Turkey is the creation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who ushered in reforms to create a modern secular state with a Moslem population. Ataturk was involved with the Young Turks who deposed the Sultan of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. He led the Turkish war of Independence in 1923 and signed the Treaty of Lausanne that year, making Turkey a republic. Although he believed he was advancing the country, not all of Kemal’s reforms were warmly received. His policy of state secularism was particularly controversial, and he was accused of decimating important cultural traditions.

Ninety years down the line, after a series of bungling politicians running the country, Turkey saw the rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who came to power in 2002, a year after the formation of the AK Party. He spent 11 years as Turkey’s prime minister before becoming the country’s first directly elected president in August 2014 ¬– a supposedly ceremonial role.

Erdogan’s AK Party enjoys a fierce and loyal support among Turkey’s conservative, Muslim base, while outrage grows over his silencing of critics, often by force. Turkish journalists have been investigated and put on trial, foreign journalists have been harassed and deported. 

Erdogan is regarded as one of the most divisive leaders in the history of modern Turkey. To his supporters he is the man who brought the country economic growth, but to his critics he is an autocratic leader intolerant of dissent, one who silences anyone who opposes him. 

His extensive control of Turkey was challenged last week with the attempted coup against him. While the plotters silenced state-run television, seized major bridges, airports and even the parliament building, Erdogan out-manoeuvred them by taking to ‘FaceTime’ to reach a television presenter and appeal to his countrymen to take to the streets in his defence.

The coup attempt may have briefly shaken Mr Erdogan’s grip on power, but it may also have given him some of the legitimacy he needs to pursue his goals, including changing the Constitution to give him even more powers. 

Erdogan’s savage reaction to the attempted coup led some to believe that the coup was a fake, a staged affair. To me it does not seem to be like that, although I do not discount the possibility that Erdogan was aware of the coup being plotted and let it go on until a point... in order to have a pretext for declaring a state of emergency and pursue a crackdown against anyone who is suspected of being a dissenter. More than 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended, detained or are under investigation in the aftermath of the coup attempt. Many have questioned how the Turkish security forces drew up such a big list of ‘suspects’ in one or two days!

Erdogan said the state of emergency, lasting three months, would allow his government to take swift and decisive measures against supporters of the coup and was allowed under the constitution. Emergency rule allows the president and cabinet to bypass parliament in passing new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary. Unsurprisingly, Erdogan has rebuffed criticism accusing him of going too far in his efforts to neutralize suspected opponents. 

This is a situation where democracy finds itself on the horns of a dilemma: a military coup against an elected government is unacceptabele... but so is a savage reaction that ignores basic human rights.

Certainly not a case of Turkish delight.

No mayhem yet

The quick election of Theresa May as UK Prime Minsiter and the subsequent appointment of her Cabinet surprised many with the joke doing the rounds of comparing her with Margaret Thatcher; except that instead of ‘Thatcherism’ Britain is set for a period of ‘Mayhem’. 

I suspect that the fast resolution of the set-up of the new Conservative government was the result of backroom deals more than anything else. The Tories are certainly good at that!

Darren McCaffrey of Sky News commented that May surprised many with the way she handled her first session of Prime Minister Questions, with some saying that she sounded very much like the Iron Lady.

Anyone who saw her on tv – myself included – must have been impressed by how she managed jokes, held great attention to detail, hardly ever referring to her notes, and made the Labour benches look and feel very uncomfortable.

Her sarcastic attacks on Corbyn’s leadership, “a boss who doesn’t listen to his workers, a boss who asks workers to double their workload, a boss who exploits the rules?” was first class Parliamentary tit for tat.

It wasn’t a complete walkover for Mrs May: she dodged questions on free movement and her continued commitment on net migration targets will continue to cause her trouble.

Meanwhile in the UK, bets are being taken on whether Clause 50 will ever be triggered. Did she say ‘Brexit is Brexit’?

Judicial reform

Finally the government and the opposition have agreed on legislation that reforms certain aspects of our judiciary. The unanimous approval by parliament of legislation on the appointment of the members of the judiciary, new parameters on pensions given to retired members of the judiciary, and new powers for the Commission for the Administration of Justice is a feather in the cap for Maltese democracy.

Both Justice Minister Owen Bonnici and his Opposition shadow, Jason Azzopardi are to be congratulated for reaching the agreement that led to the reforms being approved by both sides of the House.

Bickering and arguing between politicians are hallmarks of Parliamentary democracy but so is knowing when and how to rise to the occasion and finding common ground on ways how to agree on systems that sustain the country’s basic democratic structure.

This is what makes Malta a genuine democracy despite the faults and the warts of the poltical class.

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