Turkey’s post-coup unity at risk
One of the most important positive consequences of the July 15 coup attempt, which caused a wide and deep trauma within society and politics, was the unity and solidarity it helped foster between different political parties and walks of life in Turkey.
The essence of this spirit was the fact that all these groups, regardless their ideological points of view - political parties, media outlets, civil society organizations – unconditionally defended Turkish democracy, the democratically elected government, and fundamental freedoms. All united around the notion of democracy as the main common ground that they share.
There were even some concrete steps taken by prominent political figures in the aftermath of the foiled coup. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted the leaders of three major political parties – the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - at the presidential palace for the first time. (The veto on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, however, continued in the post-July 15 period.)
The leaders agreed at that meeting to work on a small-scale constitutional amendment to restructure judicial bodies to clear the judiciary of Gülenists. They also supported the government’s measures to fight against coup plotters and to identify members of the Gülen movement within the state. The government’s move to declare a state of emergency was not challenged by the opposition either. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım initiated consecutive meetings with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli in order to coordinate the process and listen to their criticisms regarding the implementation of the state of emergency.
While all these promising gestures were taking place, there have also been some other developments that created concerns about whether President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP were using this process to further consolidate their one-man, one-party rule.
For some senior CHP officials, Erdoğan and the AKP have been trying to capitalize on the post-coup process to unite the whole nation, political parties, media and other civil society organizations around President Erdoğan as the sole figure symbolizing the state. Attempts to change the entire state structure in order to increase the influence of the president over all key state bodies - the military, the judiciary, the intelligence organization, etc. - constitute an important part of the opposition’s concerns. They are seen as the footsteps of mid-term constitutional amendments that would introduce comprehensive systemic change in Turkey, collecting all power in a single pair of hands at the expense of further eroding checks and balances. The recent moves of the MHP increase concerns on the CHP side that such an amendment would receive enough support at parliament to take it to a referendum.
In parallel to these institutional steps, some actions of the president and the AKP are regarded as efforts to create a more profound psychological atmosphere to widen the social and political ground that President Erdoğan has been enjoying since becoming the head of state in mid-2014. Accordingly, Erdoğan features as the sole leader of the state to protect democracy, unity and other gains of the Republic of Turkey through consecutive massive rallies in which opposition parties have also been invited.
He certainly has secured even greater public support in the recent period, and anyone who challenges this will be accused of breaking the spirit of national unity that prevailed in the aftermath of the coup attempt.
The presidential palace in Ankara also plays an essential role in building Erdoğan’s stature as the real head of the executive, as it hosts scores of meetings under the helm of the president. After serving as the venue of security summits and cabinet meetings, the palace also hosted the ceremony of the opening of the judicial year earlier this week. That was despite criticism that such a move could undermine judicial independence and impartiality as well as the separation of powers.
CHP head Kılıçdaroğlu’s harsh criticism of the judicial year event should be read as an expression of his growing disturbance about such governmental actions. The dilemma that his party has is the fact that it could become rapidly marginalized if it is seen as the one ruining the spirit of unity in the country. On the other hand, the CHP is aware that abandoning its responsibilities as the main opposition party could weaken it and prompt fresh internal debates. Although the CHP will continue to perform its role as a constructive opposition party, it looks like it will be hard for it to keep this up for a long period of time.