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A big win for Erdogan, a big loss for Turkish democracy

Aleesha Matharu | Updated on: 17 July 2016, 23:17 IST

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is definitely grinning on the inside. Everything he's aimed for is falling into his lap all thanks to the failed military coup.

Having come out of the situation as top dog - thousands answered his call to take to the streets to help bring the coup to a grinding halt - overnight, Erdogan has turned from villain to hero.

Even the world has had to grit its teeth and side with the government despite a history of hitting out at the autocratic leader who would be dictator.

Also read - Turkey coup: public rallies behind Erdogan, checkmate for rebels

It's clear that the failed coup has given Erdogan the public support he needs to push for a change of the political system. Erdogan wants to formally centralise power around himself as president, rather than the parliament - continuing an autocratic trend that he has led in recent years.

So ironically, it is likely that the failed coup will only serve to further that goal.

Commenting on the situation in the Guardian, Turkey analyst Andrew Finkel said "many would argue that Turkey was already in the throes of a slow motion coup d'etat, not by the military but by Erdogan himself. For the last three years, he has been moving, and methodically, to take over the nodes of power."

The purge

Erdogan is using this opportunity to purge anyone who has ever spoken against him.

In a speech on Saturday, Erdogan said the coup was "a gift from God" because it would allow him now to "cleanse the army".

At least 2,800 officers and soldiers were arrested on Saturday as the purge began, including five generals. Erdogan's purge continued in other state institutions, with more than 2,700 judges fired from their posts.

Speaking at a funeral in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan vowed to "clean all state institutions of the virus" of Fethullah Gulen supporters. He laid the blame for the rebellion squarely on Gulen, a reclusive Muslim cleric based in the US whom Turkish officials routinely blame for fomenting unrest and dissent.

Members of what he called the "Gulen group" have "ruined" the armed forces, Erdogan said, and are being arrested in all ranks within the army. Broadcaster CNN Turk said Erdosan's chief military assistant, Ali Yazici, was among those being held.Bekir Bozdag, the Turkish justice minister, said in an interview: "The cleansing is continuing. Some 6,000 detentions have taken place. The number could surpass 6,000."

Under his thumb

Turkey has been becoming more and more authoritarian over the past few years with Erdogan at its helm. It's a far cry from what secular hardliner Mustafa Kemal Ataturk imagined his country would be back in the 1920s.

Over the past five years, the ruling party - the AKP - has systematically throttled the independence of state institutions, the media, education and civil society.

The pressures on the media have been extensively documented and the country has slid in international ratings by organisation such as Freedom House from "partly free" to "not free at all". National newspapers have been taken over by government cronies and all criticism has been silenced. Hundreds of journalists have been fired; a few are behind bars for daring to speak up for Turkish democracy.

TV stations have had the plug pulled from satellites and Erdogan has time and again hit out at social media. He's even taken a doctor to court for comparing him to Gollum, a character from The Lord of the Rings.

Also read - Lord of the Ridiculous: Erdogan commands Turkish court to probe Gollum

His consolidation of power over recent years has also meant that the judiciary is no longer the cornerstone of democracy that it should be.

Last May, he discarded one prime minister in favour of another more sympathetic to his plans to change the parliamentary system into a strong executive presidency.

So in short, Erdogan and AKP have been dismantling Turkish democracy themselves slowly for many years.

There will be blood

You have to feel a little sorry for the coup plotters in all of this. Their goal, as they said, was "to restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms and the rule of law."

Instead, they've doubly failed and will now have to sit through trials, executions and jail sentences knowing that they handed Turkey over to Erdogan on a platter. The President, one step away from all but crowning himself king, made one thing clear: "What is being perpetrated is a rebellion and a treason. They will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey."

But the main casualty of this whole drama is Turkish democracy. The death knell has already been rung.

More in Catch -Turkey has a long, bloody history of military coups

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First published: 17 July 2016, 23:17 IST
Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

Born in Bihar, raised in Delhi and schooled in Dehradun, Aleesha writes on a range of subjects and worked at The Indian Express before joining Catch as a sub-editor. When not at work you can find her glued to the TV, trying to clear a backlog of shows, or reading her Kindle. Raised on a diet of rock 'n' roll, she's hit occasionally by wanderlust. After an eight-year stint at Welham Girls' School, Delhi University turned out to be an exercise in youthful rebellion before she finally trudged her way to J-school and got the best all-round student award. Now she takes each day as it comes, but isn't an eternal optimist.