ISTANBUL: When President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s drawn face was seen on television appealing to supporters through a humble mobile phone app, some may have thought the game was up for the Turkish strongman. But his backers flooded the streets of Istanbul and Ankara in response to his desperate appeal on FaceTime to counter the botched military coup that represented the biggest threat to his 13-year domination of the country.
And rather than being damaged by the coup, Erdogan is likely to emerge strengthened, analysts said. They said his pugnacious charisma and image as the protector of conservative and pious Turks from treachery emanating from outside are likely to receive a huge boost. However Erdogan still faces obstacles, notably to implementing his dream of a fully-fledged presidential system in Turkey and keeping military support to fight Kurdish rebels.
Erdogan will now “have his hands free”, said Dorothee Schmid, Turkey specialist at the French Institute for Foreign Relations (IFRI). “He will have the full powers, with a mindset of vengeance and desire to control the country in a totalitarian fashion,” she said. Since the coup, Erdogan has roused crowds of thousands in his home district of Istanbul, vowing to listen to their calls for the re-imposition of the death penalty.
He has also enjoyed a rare degree of across-the-board support in Turkey, with even opposition parties lining up to denounce the coup. Indeed there are so many reasons to see the coup as a boost to Erdogan that there have been suggestions in particular on social media that it was staged with the express aim of helping him.
“It’s not a coup but theatre,” was a viral hashtag on Turkish social media on the night of the putsch. The government has slammed such claims as utterly false and Erdogan told CNN late Monday that he was 15 minutes from being killed before leaving the Aegean hotel where he was staying for Istanbul.
“It is really nonsensical. This is no different really than claiming 9/11 was orchestrated by the United States – and that the Paris and Nice attacks were orchestrated by the French government,” Ibrahim Kalin told foreign reporters. Turkey has accused Erdogan’s archfoe Fethullah Gulen of organizing the coup from exile in the United States, but the Islamic cleric retorted the president himself may have staged it. Asked about an allegation the Americans were behind Friday’s events, he said: “One of our ministers made a comment at the heat of the event when the emotions were high… you have to understand the psychology here.” He said coup plotters will be tried “on charges of treason and attempt to change the constitutional order illegally.”
Schmid said all would now not be plain sailing for Erdogan who was leading a deeply polarized country where confidence in the political process has sunk. “He is also leading a state that is more and more in a state of disorder,” she added, saying that Turkey was becoming a “country which is more and more difficult to control.”
Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to the US and lawmaker for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that the coup “will reinforce Erdogan’s powers and allow him to limit the freedoms that remain”. He said that the outcome would feed Erdogan’s desire to seek constitutional change for a presidential system in Turkey at a time when he already has unprecedented powers over politics, the economy and the media in Turkey.
Bayram Balci, Turkey expert at Ceri Sciences Po in Paris, said that the coup was nothing less than a “gift from heaven” for Erdogan. “He presents himself as the savior of democracy, he starts a new life and this will increase his powers.” “Erdogan is going to be seen as very strong. He has lots of charisma, he shows both authority and authoritarianism.” But to achieve his dream of implementing a presidential system in Turkey, Erdogan will face the same problems as before, namely winning a two-thirds majority in parliament for a straight change or a three-fifths majority to call a referendum on the issue. “The same obstacles remain in place,” said Balci.
“For now he cannot even call a referendum. The one thing that he can do is to persuade some deputies to vote for him.” Thus Balci said that despite the boost Erdogan has received from the coup, the main effect will be purely “symbolic and psychological”. Meanwhile, while thousands of soldiers and dozens of generals have been detained in a relentless post-coup crackdown, Erdogan will need to stay on good terms with the backbone of the military who stayed loyal to him.
The Turkish president will be wary of launching a full-scale purge of the Turkish army at a time when it is fighting a rebellion by Kurdish militants. The military has sustained heavy losses in the year since the truce with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) broke down last in July last year but Erdogan has made clear there will be no let-up in the offensive against the banned group. “Erdogan cannot purge the army too much. He needs it,” said Balci. – AFP