On July 15, 2016, military plotters tried to overthrow the government of Turkey. Happily, they failed to undermine the country’s democracy.
But on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was re-elected and, in doing so, effectively finished what the coup plotters started. Democracy in Turkey now exists in name only, much as it does in Russia.
Mr. Erdogan exploited the fear and anger inspired by the coup attempt from the start. In the days afterward, his government purged and arrested tens of thousands of officers, soldiers, civil servants, teachers and journalists – repressive measures that continue to this day.
The purges came so swiftly that it became apparent Mr. Erdogan must have had lists prepared beforehand. He himself called the failed putsch “a gift from god” as he settled scores and eliminated political opponents, including prosecutors who were bringing corruption charges against him.
He went on to orchestrate a referendum in 2017 that amended Turkey’s constitution and consolidated power in his hands. The changes were to come into effect with the next scheduled election, in 2019, but Mr. Erdogan called an early vote in his haste to rise to autocratic power.
As a result, the President now controls all executive authority, while the role of prime minister has been eliminated. Parliament still exists but with greatly reduced oversight powers. Mr. Erdogan will be able to continue his purges, mass arrests, suppression of free speech and other abuses, largely without accountability.
Not all hope is lost. Mr. Erdogan’s rigged referendum in 2017 was barely approved, with just 51.5-per-cent support. And he was reelected with only 53 per cent of the vote, in spite of his control of the media. He has not been able to silence his opposition – although, at 160,000 arrests and counting, it has not been for lack of trying.
But Monday’s transformation of Turkey into a one-man show, all thanks to Mr. Erdogan’s exploitation of fear-based populist nationalism, counts as yet one more critical blow to the ideals of liberal democracy. The wound inflicted on Turkey in 2016 has proven fatal.