By George N. Tzogopoulos
The failed coup d’état in Turkey signals the first time in the modern history of the country that an attempt by the military to topple the political regime in power has not succeeded. In 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997, the result was different, showing that the army could intervene in politics when it wanted and change the country’s direction. The short duration of last Friday’s coup d’état and the successful reaction by the Turkish government’s forces have generated a debate over the plotters’ identities. President Tayip Erdogan accuses former imam and personal rival Fethullah Gülen. Gülen, for his part, denies any involvement and has not hesitated to publicly state that Erdogan himself might have staged the coup.
At this stage, it is particularly difficult to join this debate. Sources cannot be cross-checked and information provided remains problematic at the moment, as only intelligence services and high ranking officials know critical details. But what is maybe more important now is to assess how the failed coup d’état will influence internal developments in Turkey and the country’s foreign policy.
At first glance, Tayip Erdogan can politically capitalize. Although no one can be considered a winner when so many people have lost their lives and are critically injured, the President of Turkey seems very powerful. Using the army’s attempt to remove him from power as an excellent excuse, he has proceeded to crackdown on state institutions in order to bring his political opponents to justice.
Moreover, Erdogan might be prepared to politically exploit the situation and call an early election. He could do so if his Justice and Development Party (AKP) earns 330 out of 550 seats in the Turkish Parliament. Following the last national election, the AKP needs only 13 seats to take the new constitution to a referendum. In this regard, Erdogan’s objective to legally acquire executive power as president was delayed but not abandoned. He now has an opportunity to appeal to the emotion of Turkish citizens and achieve his goal.
Although President Erdogan and his AKP party have been democratically elected in several elections, his style of governance has caused a division in his country. The Gezi park protests of May 2013 marked the beginning of serious internal tensions, which are still apparent nowadays. The personal rivalry between Erdogan and Gülen, which is reflected among their supporters, is a characteristic example
Moreover, Erdogan is stigmatized in the West for authoritarianism. In particular, the U.S. and the EU blame him for not safeguarding the separation of powers and criticize his human rights record. However, the main concern of both Washington and Brussels is that Turkey – under Erdogan – is unpredictable in foreign affairs. Cooperation on the fight against terrorism and on the control of refugees coming to Greece has been at the top of the agenda of criticism. As far as terrorism is concerned, China has joined the U.S. and EU in not being particularly satisfied with Ankara’s performance. This is because Erdogan does not show the same sensibility to eradicate the phenomenon when reference is made to Xinjiang.
Only a few days after the failed coup in Turkey no medium or long-term predictions can be made. Stability is the main priority but this cannot be taken for granted. Attention should be paid to day-to-day developments. Erdogan seems determined to prevent domestic opposition. He is also vocal in putting pressure on the U.S. to extradite Gülen and in criticizing Germany for recognizing of the Armenian genocide.
Before the coup Erdogan had already made a realist turnaround in foreign policy by re-approaching Russia and Israel. Orthodox thinking would suggest that the Turkish President will have to expand this realist strategy domestically and internationally. Nevertheless, for leaders like Erdogan their personality and personal egoism often matter more than rational choices.