Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet opposition leaders at his presidential palace on July 25 for the first time since a faction of the military staged an unsuccessful coup to topple his government that left at least 246 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.
The planned meeting raises hope that Turkish politics may finally start to normalise after years of deep divisions. In what could be seen as the first sign of this, Mehmet Muezzinoglu, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas attended a pro-democracy rally organised on July 24 in Istanbul’s Taksim Square by the main opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP).
NGOs critical of the government and other anti-government groups flocked to Taksim Square as well as tens of thousands of CHP supporters. The CHP, along with two other opposition groupings in parliament, the Nationalist Movement party (AKP) and pro-Kurdish HDP, stood by the government during the botched putsch. However, among them only MHP supported the government’s decision to declare a three-month state of emergency.
Erdogan invited the leaders of the CHP and MHP but not Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the HDP, to his palace – which came under attack during the coup attempt – to discuss developments and the measures taken in the wake of the putsch. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the CHP leader, had refused to go to the palace in the past, as he sees it as a symbol of Erdogan’s plans for a stronger executive presidential system.
Purging of Gulenists
The government has suspended, sacked and arrested tens of thousands of people on suspicion of having links to the Gulenist network and for their alleged involvement in the coup attempt. The government has no doubt that US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his supporters in the army are responsible for the coup attempt. Long before the government, the country’s secularists had claimed that Gulen supporters had infiltrated the police force and judiciary and had become very powerful but the government acknowledged that only after it fell out with Gulen.
In the past, only few Gulen supporters had been purged from the military, and nobody suspected that they were apparently holding key positions there and they could dare to make such a bold move to topple the government. According to reports in local media, Gulenists successfully concealed their true identities and set up a secret network within the military.
13,165 people have been detained over the coup attempt. “Some 8,838 among the detained are soldiers, 2,101 are judges and prosecutors, 1,485 are police officers, 52 are local authorities and 689 are civilians,” Erdogan said, the Hurriyet Daily News reported.
It later became clear that Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) informed the country's top generals, including the chief of staff Hilmi Akar, about suspicious military activity on July 15, hours before the plotters took to the streets with tanks, and jets started to fly low in the capital and Istanbul. But, neither the spy agency nor top brass passed the information they had on to the government.
Erdogan later said he could not reach Hakan Fidan, the head of the MIT, for hours at that night. The president now admits there were significant gaps and deficiencies in intelligence and he has vowed to restructure the army, the second largest in Nato.
Erdogan met Fidan and Akar over the weekend. They will remain in their posts, Erdogan suggested in an interview with France 24. “At present we are in a transition period. We have a saying, 'you do not change the horse half-way down the road'," he said.
In a crackdown on the Gulenist network, the government has closed 934 schools, 109 dormitories, 15 universities, 104 foundations, 35 health institutions, 1,125 associations and 19 unions, and their assets have been seized.
Now the government is seeking the extradition of Gulen from the United States.
Tension with US
AKP supporters are asking why the US, a close ally of Turkey, is still harbouring this man accused of staging a coup. Washington’s response is that the government should provide evidence about Gulen’s involvement. Washington’s foot-dragging is naturally causing lots of speculations in Ankara. Some senior figures from AKP and pro-government newspapers even claim that the US was behind the coup, or at least it knew about the putsch beforehand but it did not warn the government.
In an interview with Al Jazeera on July 20, Erdogan suggested that foreign countries might have been involved in the failed coup attempt. He, however, did not name any.
Claims over US involvement angers Washington. “When rumours like that start swirling around, that puts our people at risk on the ground in Turkey and it threatens what is a critical alliance and partnership between the United States and Turkey,” President Barack Obama said on July 22.
“America's governed by rules of law, and those are not ones that the president of the United States or anybody else can just set aside for the sake of expediency,” Obama said.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag and Interior Minister Efkan Ala are expected to travel to the US this week to discuss the extradition of Gulen. Tension with the US looks to stay there for some time as the legal process will likely to take some time, maybe months, even years.
Turkish markets have been turbulent since the coup attempt with stocks falling 13.6% and the lira loosing 6.4% of its value against the dollar between July 15 and July 21. The markets, however, were relatively calmer on July 22. The main stock exchange index, BIST-100, closed 0.2% higher and the local currency weakened 0.33% to trade at 3.0650 per dollar.
Investors will keep a close eye on the rating agencies’ assessments of the coup. S&P has already downgraded Turkey, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings to 'BB/B' and 'BB+/B', respectively, from 'BB+/B' and 'BBB-/A-3'.
Moody’s Investors Service has also placed Turkey’s credit rating on review for downgrade.
Fitch warned that the attempted coup and the authorities' reaction highlight political risks to the country's sovereign credit profile. The next scheduled review date for Fitch's sovereign rating is August 19.
Erdogan said S&P’s decision was political. “It is simply the proof that they [S&P] are hired agents of other people,” Erdogan said in an interview with Reuters last week. “And Moody’s, if they come up with a similar statement, it’s not honest, it’s not objective,” he added.
Deputy PM Mehmet Simsek said last week that Turkey would come out of this with a much stronger democracy, a better functioning market economy and an enhanced investment climate. How the stock exchange and currency market move on July 25 will be an indication as to whether investors are still digesting the news.
The central bank announced on July 22 it plans to hold technical talks with investors and analysts, including regular meetings with overseas investors. In the wake of the coup attempt, the bank promised more liquidity to banks. All measures will be taken to ensure financial stability if deemed necessary, the central bank said in a statement on its website on July 17.