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June 19, 2008, Thursday

Soft coup already under way, hard coup possible

What has happened since the Turkish military released a memo on April 27, 2007 as a warning to the government, since followed by the Constitutional Court's controversial and political 367 decision, which prevented the first round of the presidential election last year, has already signaled the start of a post-modern, or soft, coup in the country, orchestrated by the military-led, staunchly secular elite.

If both the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and other political parties in Parliament do not behave responsibly in finding a common ground and compromise -- for the sake of preventing further interventions in the political process by non-political actors -- we may face a hard coup in a few months' time.

This, in fact, will spell real chaos, taking into consideration the nature of military coups that have removed four governments from power so far, and inflict serious damage on the country's development in all spheres.

But I am still optimistic that just as the Turkish national soccer team, which defeated the Czech team during the Euro 2008 match, scoring 3-2 in the last 15 minutes of the game and thereby qualifying to play in the quarterfinals, Turkish political actors will also make a last-minute move and save the country from going through the effects of another devastating military coup.

A soft coup, or what its architects (one of them was then-Turkish General Staff Secretary-General retired Gen. Erol Özkasnak) have described as a post-modern coup, took place back in 1996, culminating with the forced resignation of then coalition government, led by the now-defunct pro-Islamic Welfare Party (RP) in 1997.

The 1997 post-modern coup became possible with an overt campaign orchestrated by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) through briefings given at General Staff headquarters in Ankara to the top judiciary, academics and journalists, culminating with the dispatch of tanks to the streets of the capital's Sincan district, a stronghold of pro-Islamists.

I strongly support that Turkey, overwhelmingly Muslim but secular by Constitution, adhere to the democratic principles rather than moving towards a pro-Islamic lifestyle.

However, I am also among those who strongly believe that military coups and fear-based politics should not be the way to rule a nation. Rather, the nation should be governed and ruled by civilians elected by the people, and the political leadership's sole task should be to pursue policies furthering democracy. This also means freedoms should be expanded.

Neither hard coups nor post-modern coups have helped open the way for the expansion of democracy in Turkey as coups by nature do not have any such role to play. Coups only strengthen their undertakers through the preservation of the status quo.

Unfortunately, we have been going through a process of a soft military coup -- this time more covertly as the judiciary has been used as a cover.

The April 27 memo failed in the sense that it did not prevent the AK Party's second rise to power of the AK Party -- this time with a landslide victory in the July 22 elections of last year. The judiciary then came on the scene to continue the coup games but failed to prevent the election of then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül as president by the newly formed Parliament.

It is also true that the AK Party has made serious strategic mistakes by bowing to the pressure of the staunchly secular establishment, which I describe as a selfish elite, thus neglecting political and economic reforms required for the well-being of the citizens.

The 47 percent of the votes that the AK Party received during the July 22 elections was strong enough of a mandate given to the political leadership by the people for it to continue its historic military and civil reforms that began during its first term after its election in November 2002.

The AK Party, however, failed to benefit from the 47 percent mandate by doing almost nothing to continue economic and political reforms required for furthering democracy.

The result has been the AK Party being trapped by the judiciary, which has sought its closure and a ban on 70 of its members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as President Abdullah Gül from engaging in politics.

The Constitutional Court will issue its ruling on the AK Party closure case in the coming months. If the court decides on closure, the party has enough members to set up a new party -- one that can be called the son of the AK Party -- and stay in power. But a new party does not have the same luxury of making the same strategic mistakes that the AK Party has made.

First and foremost, any new party to be formed should re-establish its links with the Turkish liberals that gave their strong backing to the AK Party during its first term, while taking steps to convince the public that it is adhering to EU reforms more strongly than ever.

The Turkish team's last-minute miracle in Geneva last week was also the result of a sudden realization of the team's potential to succeed. Similarly, Turkish political actors should also realize that they have the same potential to succeed and that the establishment should not prevent them from exploring their potential through intimidation. Last-minute maneuvers could avoid a hard coup.

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