All three of Turkey’s main opposition parties opposed the coup attempt on July 15, and the government has taken pains to show its gratitude. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has withdrawn court cases against opposition leaders, and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim praised each of them in parliament by name. For their part, the opposition parties have gone as far as to hold anti-coup rallies, and the main opposition leader paid his first-ever visit to Erdogan’s sprawling presidential palace. This mood of cross-party unity, however, is an illusion – Erdogan is using the coup attempt to consolidate his one-man rule as never before.
The opposition’s anti-coup rallies came despite the government’s declaration of a state of emergency and temporary suspension of the European Convention of Human Rights. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was the first opposition party to organize a demonstration in Istanbul on July 23, followed by the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) the next day. The government of the ruling, Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) not only allowed the CHP to use Taksim, a public square banned for rallies since the Gezi Park protests of 2013, but some of its senior figures even joined the event.
Optimists see this apparent mood of reconciliation as a unique opportunity for Erdogan to start working with the opposition that he has shunned in his 13 years at the helm as prime minister and then president. Skeptics see the president’s gestures differently: as merely an interlude to his ongoing campaign to push for a centralized presidential system and one-man rule. Regrettably, Erdogan’s track record suggests the skeptics are almost certain to be proven right.
There are already worrying signs that amid the fog of the coup, Erdogan is carrying out a campaign of repression unprecedented even by his formidable standards. So far, as many as 10,000 people have been arrested and more than 66,000 removed from their posts, and according to Amnesty International, suspected coup plotters have been beaten, tortured, starved, and raped. Erdogan even redesigned the high courts, a controversial move that had received heavy criticism before the coup, and brought back a contentious “wealth amnesty” – a bill that would legalize money laundering and had previously been withdrawn after fierce resistance by the opposition.
Had the coup succeeded, it would have landed a devastating blow to Turkey’s fragile democracy. However, the coup plotters who aimed to topple Erdogan have instead given him the best cover of all: the appearance of national consensus as he reshapes Turkey’s institutions in ways he could only have dreamed of.
Aykan Erdemir is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and a former member of the Turkish parliament. Follow him on Twitter @aykan_erdemir