This week, Turkey extended the state of emergency that was declared after the failed July 15 coup attempt for another three months as the government’s crackdown on suspected followers of Fethullah Gulen widens by the day.
More than 30,000 people have been arrested, while 70,000 are under investigation, for their alleged links to the US-based cleric, who the government says was the mastermind of the botched putsch that left more than 250 people dead.
A day after the government decided to extend the emergency rule, 12,000 policemen, including 2,500 chiefs, were suspended, in addition to the 100,000 people already dismissed from public jobs since the coup.
The state of emergency helps the government move fast, allowing it to issue decrees that do not require parliament’s approval. The government says the Gulenists had infiltrated the country’s key institutions - the police force, army, judiciary, and ministries - over the years and these institutions must be cleansed of all Gulen supporters quickly.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hinted that the fight against the Gulenists will take time. The situation is so complicated that a three-month state of emergency won’t be enough, maybe not even 12 months, Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara last week.
The magnitude of the post-coup purges and arrests has alarmed Turkey’s allies, prompting repeated calls for restraint and the respect for rule of law. But, Ankara says, the West does not understand and underestimates the threat the Gulenists pose to the country. It dismisses accusations of human rights violations.
Meanwhile at home, the main opposition party CHP claims that the sweeping crackdowns are now targeting not only the Gulenist network but also other groups. The police this week raided and pulled the plug on more than 20 TV and radio stations, including the pro-Kurdish IMC and leftist Ozgur Radyo, for allegedly spreading terrorist propaganda.
Turkey now risks losing the spirit of national unity that emerged in the wake of the botched putsch.
In an unprecedented show of solidarity, Turkey’s opposition leaders -excluding Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of pro-Kurdish HDP, because he was not invited - turned up at a mass rally organised by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on August 7 in Istanbul’s Yenikapi district to denounce the coup attempt. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the secularist Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), and Devlet Bahceli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) addressed a crowd, overwhelmingly composed of AKP supporters, voicing support for the elected government. This display of “national unity” - dubbed the “Yenikapi spirit”- raised hopes that the country could finally overcome its past divides and social polarisation to make a fresh start.
But, as the government’s clampdown widens to include leftist civil servants, journalists and mayors of the predominantly Kurdish towns in the country’s southeast, cracks have started to appear in the fragile Yenikapi spirit.
The government defends its stance, arguing that extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures. Some mistakes could have been made, some innocent people might be affected, but all these problems will be addressed and mistakes will be corrected, government officials assure.
There are speculations that Gulen supporters may attempt yet another coup. These rumours may not be true, but the government remains vigilant. It says it won’t let what happened in July occur again and that’s why it is swiftly purging all suspected Gulenist elements from state institutions. Government officials dismiss the claims that the government is using the coup as an opportunity to hush up all dissent voices. Journalists are detained and TV stations are closed only because they either support the Gulenists or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), they say.
Public opinion is divided. On the one side, there are AKP supporters who firmly stand behind their government and Erdogan. Tens of thousands of them remained on the streets for a month across the country for what they called “Democracy Watch” in the wake of the coup attempt. This encourages the government not to loosen its grip.
And on the other side of the fence are the CHP, HDP and non-parliamentary leftist groups who fear that the government crackdown could spin out of control. The CHP and HDP are against the extension of the emergency rule. The CHP has already appealed to the constitutional court for the annulment of one of the decrees issued by the government after the coup.
Of the opposition parties, only the nationalist MHP says the decrees are necessary as they help the government get rid of the remnants of the Gulen supporters within the state apparatus.
The sense of national unity, “Yenikapi spirit”, seems to be fading away as the CHP, the country’s second largest party, is beginning to think that the government may be going too far with the emergency powers.
In fact, the talk of “national unity” was always a bit overblown. Yes, the CHP, MHP and even the HDP stood by the government during and after the coup attempt, and all political parties united against a common threat. Those involved in the coup should be tried and punished, democracy and the parliamentary system should be defended: this was the only unquestioned consensus that emerged among the people from different parts of the political spectrum.
The country’s liberals, as well as the CHP and HDP, were hoping that the AKP would tone down what they see as its divisive rhetoric and adopt a more inclusive stance to reduce social polarisation.
Some were even more optimistic, hoping that the united front against the putsch could be developed into a front for the defence of liberties, taking the country’s democracy to a higher level. That, indeed, could have been an unprecedented leap forward for a Turkish democracy that lacks a culture of dialogue and political compromise.
These optimistic analyses failed see how deep the distrust runs between the political parties that have developed over the turbulent past few years. And this distrust seems to have burst into the open once again, throwing the future of the Yenikapi Spirit into doubt.
Erdogan is not likely to back down on his current policies because he sees the Gulenists as an existential threat to his rule and wants to get rid of them as swiftly as possible, no matter what the opposition says.
Erdogan is pragmatic enough, however, to avoid one explosive issue: the establishment of the executive presidential system. Indeed, he has not talked about it publicly lately, probably because he is aware that he cannot fight several wars at a time. Erdogan and his government are now pretty much occupied with the elimination of the immediate Gulenist threats at home and are concentrated on the ongoing military operation in Syria against Islamic State and the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia.
Erdogan, the master of political timing, will probably revisit his old plans in due course to push for the presidential system when all the dust settles and when he believes the time has become ripe to advance his cause.
He and his government also have some other things to worry about, not least putting the country’s slowing economy back on track, which has also been made more difficult by the post-coup clampdown.
The Turkish lira weakened to a two-month low against the US dollar on October 4 after the government slashed growth forecasts and said the country’s budget deficit will likely reach 1.9% of GDP in 2017, up from a previous 1.3% target.
The main stock exchange index, the BIST-100, fell by 2.4% between September 23, when Moody’s cut Turkey’s credit rating to junk, and October 5. The yield on the 10-year bonds rose to 9.91% on September 26 but later eased to 9.75% on October 5.
The government is now responding to the slowing growth by announcing a set of measures aimed at boosting domestic demand.
The government’s decision to extend the state of emergency and prospects of another rate cut by the central bank are all weighing on investor sentiment. Renewed expectations for a FED rate hike by the end of this year also keep Turkish assets under pressure.
“The risk now is that the central bank will ease monetary policy rapidly, which will set the lira up for losses later on. We see USD-TRY at around 3.20 by year-end,” analysts at Commerzbank wrote in a report on October 4. “Developments on three fronts – growth, inflation, and current account – are all lira negative, individually and in combination,” they said.
Moody’s cited two reasons for the downgrade; the increase in the risks related to the country's sizeable external funding requirements and the weakening in previously supportive credit fundamentals, particularly growth and institutional strength.
“The large-scale suspensions in the civil service raise doubts over the capacity of Turkey's policy making institutions to make meaningful further progress in both legislating and implementing the reform programme,” said the rating agency. “The government's actions in the private sector towards institutions that have ties to the Gulen raise concerns regarding the protection of private investment and the investment climate in general.”
A total of 225 companies have been seized over their link to the Gulenist network since the coup attempt.
Government officials dismissed Moody’s criticism, claiming it was a politically motivated decision, but they vowed to implement more structural reforms to put the economy on a more sustainable path. The government also argues that state institutions will work better and more effectively once they are cleansed of the Gulenists.