NYT editorial asks whether Turkey’s democracy can survive President Erdoğan

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits the Anitkabir, the mausoleum of the late founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, during a ceremony marking the 93rd Anniversary of Republic Day in Ankara on October 29, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN

One of the most prestigious newspapers in the United States, The New York Times, ran an editorial on Tuesday in which it explained how Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has marched toward authoritarianism under the pretext of a post-coup crackdown he launched in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15.

Turkey experienced a military coup attempt on July 15 that killed over 240 people and wounded more than a thousand others. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement, while the movement strongly denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

“The coup attempt in July was real, and Mr. Erdogan had reason to respond. But the dragnet, from the beginning, has far exceeded the threat. More than 100,000 people from the military, police, judiciary, media and academia have been accused, fired or detained since the botched uprising that Mr. Erdogan says was led by an Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, an ally-turned-rival who now lives in Pennsylvania. More than 130 media organizations, including 45 newspapers, have been closed under broad emergency powers that have been extended until late January. So pervasive is the witch hunt that license plates with Mr. Gulen’s initials are potentially suspect,” wrote The New York Times.

About 120,000 people have been purged from state bodies, in excess of 80,000 detained and more than 36,000 have been arrested since the coup attempt over alleged links to the Gülen movement. Turkey even banned the use of license plates which bear the initials of Fethullah Gülen whose views inspired the Gülen movement.

The daily said the crackdown has been accompanied by a slew of provocative speeches by Erdoğan lamenting the loss of Ottoman territories, proposing to reinstate the death penalty, intensifying the suppression of Kurdish nationalists and lambasting the United States and Europe.

According to The New York Times, Erdoğan is fanning the flames of grievance, nationalism and fear to increase support for his AKP, which is short of the 330 votes it needs in the 550-member Parliament to start the process of passing a constitutional amendment for a switch to an executive presidency, a long-standing aspiration of Erdoğan.

Erdoğan wants the introduction of an executive presidency in Turkey in which he will enjoy more executive powers. The post of the president is currently largely ceremonial in Turkey.

“The United States and Europe are horrified that Mr. Erdogan has strayed so completely from the track he was on when he first became the Turkish prime minister in 2003 and was hailed for building a model Muslim democracy. Turkey remains a critical NATO ally in a tumultuous region, a repository for allied nuclear weapons, and its migration deal with the European Union has helped reduce the flow of Middle Eastern refugees to Europe,” said The New York Times, referring to the change in the perception of Erdoğan over the years.

“There is no easy way for the West to keep Mr. Erdogan in the tent while making clear to him that his actions are unacceptable. But there is a Turkish saying that “a real friend tells the bitter truth.” In a speech on Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken attempted to do that, warning pointedly that the crackdown would shake the business climate and urging Turkey to respond to the failed coup “in ways that reinforce public confidence in the rule of law and Turkey’s traditions of freedom of expression and pluralism.”

“Is Mr. Erdogan listening?” asked the daily.

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