From the Arab Spring to Venezuela, Turkey’s allergy to outside intervention

From the Arab Spring to Venezuela, Turkey’s allergy to outside intervention

Due to the intensity of the agenda in Turkey I had no time to read about the political situation in Sri Lanka, so it was only after arriving on this beautiful island in the first week of last December that I realized the country was in the midst of a very serious political crisis.

In October, President Maithripala Sirisena had dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to replace him with the country’s former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. When Wickremesinghe challenged him with a vote of confidence, he suspended the parliament, but the Supreme Court had rejected his decision and said it will issue a final judgment in December.

When I arrived in the country, there were two prime ministers and people were waiting for the decision of the Supreme Court. While visiting the country’s main attractions, locals complained about the drop in the number of tourists due to the political crisis, which surprised me since there had not been any violence.

I later found out that the negative travel advice from Western countries has had its toll on the country’s tourism sector.

Why would Western countries issue a travel warning in the absence of violence? It appears that against the China-backed Rajapaksa, Western countries were supporting Wickremensinghe and that was one of the ways they exerted pressure on the president.

Sri Lankans are lucky the West had resorted to a more sophisticated and subtle tool.

That is not the case in Venezuela where there are now currently two presidents. The U.S. and some of its allies rushed to recognize the country’s parliamentary chief, Juan Guaidó, who declared himself as interim president against the country’s strongman Nicolas Maduro, as president.

No doubt Venezuela is in an economic meltdown that was meant to turn into a political crisis. The key question here is who is responsible for this meltdown? Some argue it is due to populist policies endorsed by his predecessor Hugo Chavez, who relied too much on the spectacularly high oil revenues which brought to him a huge electoral support. But as he disrupted the country’s checks and balance system, the country could not manage the economic difficulties that started with the drop in the oil prices.

Others would argue that Chavez’s policies ran against United States’ economic strategy in Latin America and the country’s difficulties were exacerbated due to efforts to sabotage the economy by Washington who is believed to be behind the coup against Chavez in 2002.

The answer to the causes of the current crisis probably lies in between these two arguments.

While Maduro continues to enjoy support from its key constituency, he suffers from a serious legitimacy crisis, according to Aylin Topal, who is heading the Middle East Technical University’s Latin and North America Research Center. Maduro won the 2013 elections by a thin margin. In last year’s election, which was boycotted by 54 percent of the nation, Maduro won 68 percent of the votes yet lost 1.7 million compared to the votes he had received in the 2013 elections, said Topal in an interview with daily Birgün.

So the question here is whether the legitimacy crisis suffered by a political leader gives legitimacy to outside powers to interfere bluntly by openly taking sides.

Turkey seems to object to outside intervention at the expense of siding with a leader who is highly contested in his country.

When one looks at Turkey’s position on Venezuela which is based on showing full support to Maduro, one can track traces of lessons driven by the current political elite from past experiences.

Until the advent of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in 2002, the coups that have taken place were all undertaken by the Turkish armed forces. The army, due to its secularist character, was seen as a foe by those who subscribe to the religious/conservative tradition, which forms the base line of the AK Party. There has always been a general conviction that military coups, especially the one in 1980, was supported by Washington.

The fact that Muhammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which came to power with elections, was toppled by a military coup in Egypt increased the allergy among AK Party elites against Washington when the U.S. and its allies quickly endorsed Egypt’s military leadership as the country’s legitimate rulers.

The AK Party’s trust toward the West’s respect to democratic principles further deteriorated when the government survived a coup staged by the FETÖ, whose leader continues to reside in the U.S., which refuses to extradite him.

So it is fair to say that the ruling elites experience and personal grievances play a crucial role in shaping Turkey’s position in the Venezuelan crisis.

Turkey, Politics, Arab Spring