Wednesday, March 10, 2010

General Malaise

Ilter Turan, a respected professor of International Relations at Istanbul's Bilgi University, has written a briefing for the German Marshall Fund looking at the recent arrest of dozens of high-ranking Turkish military officers – among them the former heads of the Navy and Air Force – as part of an investigation into an alleged plot to overthrow Turkey’s AKP government.

The arrests in the investigation into the Balyoz ("Sledgehammer") plot have been rightly hailed as a milestone in Turkey's continuing struggle to increase civilian oversight over the powerful and historically meddlesome military. The arrests have also been described as an important step in Turkey's democratization. Turan makes the point that the deep political divisions in Turkey and some of the AKP's (or, more specifically, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's) illiberal and anti-democratic tendencies pose a challenge for Ankara to turn the Balyoz developments into an opportunity for consolidating democracy. From Turan's piece:
It is clear that the military has lost its political clout while the probability of a military intervention has all but disappeared. The courts, on the other hand, are no longer as uniformed on what defending the interests of the state means. Such changes do not, however, confirm that Turkish democracy is deepening. Checks on the government’s exercise of power have been weakening. The prime minister has been growing more authoritarian in word and deed, while the government has began to behave increasingly partisan in its daily conduct of business. The country is deeply polarized and faces an impasse. An election 18 months away may or may not offer a way out. Turkish politics is in need of a grand compromise to consolidate democracy. Political will, however, seems currently to be sorely lacking.
Turan's briefing also gives some interesting background about the political atmosphere that surrounded Turkey's previous coups. You can read it here (pdf).

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