Two weeks ago, an important judge's report on attempts by the Ergenekon criminal organization to overthrow the government of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was covered by the press. Judge Hüsnü Çalmuk of the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court had prepared a preliminary report based on the contents of hard disks used by the military between 2005 and 2009, provided by the General Staff at the request of the court.
According to this report, the military had been working between 2005 and 2009 on a subtle strategy to prepare the political ground for a military coup.
This strategy would have had to have begun with an admission. The coup-plotters had to have conceded that the atmosphere was not favorable for a military coup because of the popular support enjoyed by the AK Party. In order to explain this support, reasons such as a lack of education among the public, unemployment and poverty were given. The strategy then recommended tactics to engineer an atmosphere that would be conducive to a coup, including using the media to this end.
These tactics were discussed amply by Etyen Mahçupyan in Today's Zaman (“Ergenekon's recent tactics,” Dec. 27). The feature of interest in these recent tactics for an economist is, of course, their economic dimension. So, I would like to focus on this.
Included in Judge Çalmuk's report is the following analysis made by the coup-plotters: “The loss of social support by the AK Party will be made possible by a blow to the AK Party government's efforts to attract foreign capital in such a way that the country's economic stability will be compromised. Conditions are not ripe tor overthrow the AK Party by violence or other means. However, an attempt to disrupt the influx of foreign capital could deteriorate these economic indicators overnight. The best strategy to implement from a psychological standpoint is to wait until the existing harmony between the AK Party and central powers is lost or until the value of gold on the global market declines in such a way that it will also be weakened in Turkey.”
I should confess that translating these sentences from Turkish to English was not easy at all. I tried to be as faithful as possible to the original wording. Obviously, the strategy expressed in this statement needs to be translated into terms of political economics so that it will make, I hope, the issue at hand more comprehensible. It seems that pro-coup circles have two basic problems, namely the popular support for the AK Party government and the risks associated with a premature coup. If they overthrow the government in some way or another, they risk destabilizing the economy. If they were to do so, they would shoulder all of the responsibility. They would not only be incapable of managing the economic crisis they had caused, but the majority of the population would strongly oppose the new government they put in place. So, they first need an economic crisis. Here, a third problem appears. How could they provoke an economic crisis? The only way they foresee this is the withdrawal of support given by “central powers” (by which they surely mean the United States and Europe) to the AK Party.
At first glance, this strategy could seem malicious as well as naïve. However, if we look back at the context of the last military coup, that of Feb. 28, 1997, we will have to admit that this strategy seems more rational.
In the years leading up to the May 27, 1960 coup, the economy had been getting worse and worse. Prices were increasing and a shortage of hard currency was constraining imports. The ruling Democrat Party (DP) was unable to take on additional foreign loans because it had lost the support of the “central powers” by refusing an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In August of 1958, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was finally obligated to accept a stabilization program with the IMF. The Turkish lira had devaluated more than 200 percent, fueling even higher inflation that was eroding the purchasing power of the urban middle class.
The circumstances preceding the Sept. 12, 1980 coup were even worse. Inflation had reached triple digits, a shortage of hard currency was causing a shortage of basic goods and the country's gross domestic product (GDP) was shrinking. We know also that Gen. Kenan Evren, then chief of General Staff, and his colleagues allegedly had the support of the US in ousting the government. The infamous postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997, occurred in a very similar context, characterized by serious mismanagement of the economy by the coalition “Refahyol” government.
Given this context, the bottom line is that future coup-plotters can wait until Doomsday, so long as the AK Party does not fail in its management of the economy.