Guest article by Mina Toksoz: Erdogan has used coup attempt to crack down on perceived opponents but may not be as strong as it may appear

It was the army that stopped the military coup

The majority of the coverage of the failed Turkish military coup, and the rhetoric from Turkish political leaders suggested it was defeated by the Turkish people on the streets in support of democracy — some responding to the call from the minarets others to their reason. But that was not really the case. It was the Turkish army that stopped it just as it was General Umit Dundar, commander of the first army in Istanbul, who advised President Erdogan to leave his Marmaris hotel which was attacked soon after.

The top ranks of the Turkish army “stayed loyal” to the President as relations between them has improved over the past year as the President’s policies came in line with military’s objectives: hard line on the PKK in place of the peace process, policy of defeating ISIS replacing the previously ambiguous attitude, making up with regional ally Israel and toning down the hostility to Russia for a more constructive stance on Syria. With the exception of differences over the Kurdish issue, this is also in line with Europe and US thinking. Hence came the statements of Western government support for the elected government of President Erdogan and against the coup attempt despite the subsequent dismay over the deep purges taking place. EU in particular needs Turkey to ensure the refugee deal that is critical to maintain political stability in Europe. That President Erdogan is prepared to accommodate to EU demands despite the instability caused in Turkey by the 3million (and rising) Syrian refugees shows that the two sides need each other.

But President Erdogan’s position is not as strong as it may appear. The curt statement published hours after the General Chief of Staff had contained the coup pledged allegiance to the “demokratik hukuk devleti” –  democratic state based on the rule of law. This may not be empty rhetoric as the army still sees itself as the guardian of the secular Turkish Republic.

Turkish Parliament put on rare show of unity

President Erdogan’s authoritarian direction is also set to continue to clash with the democratic aspirations of the Turkish people and the defence of democracy by its political institutions –parliament, media, political parties, business associations, that were amply illustrated during the coup attempt. The Turkish Parliament (Turkiye Buyuk Millet Meclisi) showed a rare show of unity on the weekend pledging their allegiance to the sovereignty of the people vested in the Meclis. As the coup unfolded Friday night, MPs from all parties rushed “to keep the lights on” in Parliament and stayed put even when the building was bombed releasing a joint statement condemning the coup. However, the debate in the special session next day revealed the deep polarisation in Turkish politics. While Prime Minister Yildirim of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) blamed “foreign interests who try weaken Turkey” with the nationalist-right MHP (Nationalist Action Party) Chairman Bahceli pointing to the Gulen movement as orchestraters of the coup, the centre left focused on domestic issues. The chairman of CHP (Republican Peoples’ Party) Kilicdaroglu called on MPs to work harder to strengthen democracy while the deputy head of Kurdish-left HDP (Peoples’ Democracy Party) Baluken warned that without a political solution to the ongoing conflict in the south-east, threats to democracy remain high and more military coups cannot be ruled out. These divisions were reconfirmed two days later in the debate on the 3-month emergency rule the government proposed which was passed with the support of the MHP despite CHP and HDP voting against.

Although inspiring, the scene in the Meclis was overshadowed by the action on the streets where President Erdogan spoke to his supporters. He now sees the opportunity – a Godsend, as he put it, to try to push forward the constitutional changes for an executive presidency. The government has rapidly instigated wide-ranging purges of the army, judiciary, the bureaucracy and even academia to increase its grip over the country that could further weaken the checks and balances of Turkish political institutions.

Turkish people have seen all this before, especially after the 1980 coup that had split the country between right and left. Now it is more complex. A left-alternative has only a faint echo in the CHP and HDP who –given the electoral system in Turkey, are unable to win elections, although some 40% of the electorate vote for them. On the right the vote is split between the MHP, which is in crisis as its politics has been increasingly appropriated by the AKP. Supporters of AKP are mostly people who had been left behind by the Kemalist regimes. They have been given voice by President Erdogan whose politics is a Turkish/Islamic version of Trump, Farage and other present day populist figures who thrive on crises.

Politics to drive economics

The political developments of last weekend have economic consequences. The living standards of the AKP political base improved significantly over the past decade as the Turkish economy grew rapidly. But incomes have largely stagnated since their 2008 levels. The coup attempt and the ongoing political purges is seen as increasing risks for international investors and the terror attacks are discouraging tourists. This will reduce the vital foreign exchange inflows to meet Turkey’s big external financing needs – the economy’s Achilles heel. This could continue to weigh on the lira increasing refinancing risks for the highly indebted corporate sector. The rating agencies Fitch and Moody’s warned of risks to Turkey’s investment grade rating if institutions are further weakened.

The treasury—with bureaucrats having the experience of the 2001 debt crisis, have kept a tight grip over fiscal policies. But there is a major risk that the budget discipline is loosened in order to stimulate growth to bolster political support for President Erdogan’s bid for executive presidency. Monetary policy was already suffering from political pressure for easing, although the sharp fall in the lira since the coup attempt and the inevitable uptick in inflation, led the Central bank to cut interest rates less than had been expected.

The Turkish economy is still strong with a resilient banking sector, a dynamic and diversified manufacturing, and is supported by the low oil prices and rock-bottom international interest rates. The economic authorities responded swiftly and decisively to the political shock with emergency liquidity measures and Economics minister Zeybekci promised to push on with measures to raise Turkey’s low savings rate and reduce its vulnerability to external shocks. Business welcomed the emergency rule with the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce stating “exceptional times require exceptional measures”. Domestic investors are so far standing firm. As the lira collapsed, retail depositors rushed to sell foreign exchange (some $6-7bn since the beginning of the week) and buy lira providing a domestic hedge and containing the depreciation. The weaker lira could help rebalance the Turkish economy to reduce its dependence on imports. But for currency movements to have lasting impact, they must be accompanied by deeper reforms with a longer term horizon and a business environment based on the rule of law to attract investment. However, increasingly, policy is having to focus on the short term and fire-fighting repeated domestic and international crises in the context of weakening rule of law. Meanwhile the purges are likely to trigger a major brain drain from the country. This will deplete expertise in the economy and the bureaucracy, and risks weakening policy flexibility in response to changes in global conditions. Hence the outlook for the country has become more fragile. But for 22-hours, the Turkish people and its battered institutions held together to defend democracy and showed an alternative way forward for the country away from coups and authoritarianism.

 

Referendum should not be accepted as fair democratic process but where do Remainers go from here?

Four reasons why the referendum lacks legitimacy:

We Remainers are told we should accept the result of the referendum with good grace and start thinking optimistically about the future of an isolated Britain (or England and Wales) hankering after the glories of its imperial past. There are actually four reasons why the referendum lacks legitimacy each one of which on its own would be sufficient on its own.

it undermines parliamentary sovereignty

Clem Attlee, the prime minister who created the National Health Service and greatly strengthened the welfare state said that referendums are “devices for demagogues and dictators” a phrase which was strongly endorsed by Mrs Thatcher in 1975. (To my knowledge she never did a U-turn on the matter.) Attlee it should be said was against the UK joining the forerunners of the present EU. While one can never know what a historical figure would have thought about present issues the best assumption is always that he or she would still have the same opinion so Attlee would still have thought joining the EEC in 1975 was a mistake and would have wanted to leave. But he also would have kept his opinion on referendums so he would have deplored the use of a referendum for this as for other purposes.

The campaigners to leave said that they wanted to return sovereignty to Parliament. But in fact by allowing a vote of 38% of the electorate to overturn a large majority in Parliament in favour of Remaining in the EU, the use of the vote to decide the future position of the UK in Europe and the world amounts to the biggest attack on parliamentary sovereignty since the 17th century.

 

One option was clear, the other encompassed contradictory aims

Second, the referendum was presented as a binary choice between Remain and Leave. But in fact while the choice to Remain was for a very clear known outcome, the choice to Leave opens at least two entirely different options. One is that the UK should remain a country of high immigration, but with the larger amount the comes from outside the EU being increased in relation to that from in the EU and with the UK moving forward on the basis of competition in open markets despite the evident costs to those left behind struggling in low wages and with inadequate public services. The other is of a country drastically reducing immigration so as to protect those with poor education and skills who have found it difficult to compete in open labour markets and have lost jobs due to competition from countries with much lower labour costs. If the referendum had separated these very sharply different visions of the future for the UK outside the EU and thus given the electorate three choices it is almost certain that Remain would have come out top of the three in a first post the post election. Even if the Alternative Vote system was used allowing a second choice to be used to decide between the two front runners it is very unlikely that most of those who voted for one Leave option (free labour and other markets as opposed to measures to protect British workers from competition) would have put the opposite option as their second choice.

The vote divides the generations

Third the referendum was intended as determining the future of the country for a period of 30 years or more, a very different proposition than a general election whose outturn lasts for a maximum of five years. The fact that all surveys show a large majority of those under 40 who will live longer with the consequences voted to Remain is an unacceptable binding of their future by an older generation.

Voters were misinformed in some cases deliberately

Fourth, the British people were misled and in several instances told outright lies by the Leave campaigns.

First, they were told that Turkey IS joining the EU in large posters prominently displayed. Turkey IS NOT joining the EU. Eleven years since negotiations opened in 2005 Turkey has completed only one of the 35 chapters which are preconditions for being considered for accession. Turkey as other countries can never join the EU without the parliamentary approval of every member country including not only the UK but also Germany, France and Austria where opposition to Turkish membership has traditionally been far greater than in the UK. (In fact British governments have long supported the principle of the possibility of Turkish membership and this position was not questioned by the Leave members of the British government before the referendum campaign).

There is no possibility in the near future that Turkey could come to a position in which member parliaments would be asked even to consider it for membership. This was a very distant prospect in 2010 and since then President Erdogan has made a large steps away from meeting EU membership criteria related to human rights, freedom of speech, rule of law and treatment of minorities. .

 

Second, the people were told that Leaving would give Britain control of its borders. In fact Britain has control of its borders: people coming into the country go through passport control. The UK can and has turned back people, including EU nationals,with criminal records or considered a threat to security. Whether the new electronic system is effective is open to question but that was always a choice only for the British government. To significantly strengthen such controls would require either a massive increase in border staff to subject travellers to intense scrutiny and long queues or some way of cutting the number of visitors.

Third, the Leave campaign’s battle bus was emblazoned with a statement that Britain would save £350m a month by leaving the EU and that this will be used to increase funding for the NHS. When Dr Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP and medical doctor, changed sides from Leave to Remain during the campaign in disgust at this flagrant lie, the Leave campaign announced that their position had not changed and the sum to go to the NHS remained on their bus. Immediately after the campaign it was dropped like a hot cake because they know that leaving the EU will save less than half the £350m and given other demands no government could afford to increase spending on the NHS to that extent without raising taxes.

Where now?

Those amongst the 48% who voted Remain who feel strongly about the matter should never accept the Referendum as a legitimate exercise of democratically accountable governance for the reasons given in the article and particularly because far from returning sovereignty to Parliament it critically undermines the sovereignty of Parliament by pressuring MPs to vote contrary to their own judgment on a matter of fundamental importance to the future of the country and possibly even the very existence of the country. One reason for non-acceptance is to try to prevent it acting as a precedent for referendums both in principle and in the manner of their conduct on other issues in the UK and across Europe.

However saying this provides little guidance of how Remainers should act in the coming months and years. Despite the reluctance of leading Brexiteers to move quickly to activate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to set in motion divorce proceedings it remains probable that the UK or what remains of it will leave the EU in due course. It must require an Act of Parliament but probably enough MPs have promised to follow the referendum outcome rather than their own judgment so probably passing such an Act.

 

Maintaining any special access to single market will be difficult outside the EU

Then will follow negotiations on leaving and subsequent economic relations with the EU. The least bad outcome from the point of view of Remainers of such negotiations would be to retain substantial access to the single market. But this will be highly difficult to obtain. Since the UK will now refuse full access to the single market for other EU workers—given that this was the biggest substantive issue in the campaign, it must inevitably accept limitations on its own access to the market in the 27 remaining member states. A new government may still hope that it can negotiate access to important parts of the single market like financial services and the digital economy but it will not be at all easy. Any deal requires the agreement of every one of 27 countries all subject to their own pressures and lobbies. If the UK was negotiating with the German Industry Association (BDI) which has called for a good deal for the UK the task might be easy. But it is not. Even the German government if it had sole negotiating rights would want to maintain a rules-based single market, and Germany is not able to dictate to other countries despite the myth to that effect in the UK. With regard to euro zone bail-outs it has much power as the leading creditor but that power does not extend to other policy areas as seen in its attempt to push for a common sharing of refugees across the EU.

At present more access to the single market than countries like the US and Canada (in the present situation with as yet no TTIP) seems impossible as all EU countries and institutions are taking an all or nothing approach. In my opinion the other EU countries were a bit too rigid in what they allowed David Cameron in his renegotiations. However, there are in fact very good reasons for the EU’s apparent rigidity. The EU is not, as portrayed in the British media, a monolithic entity but a framework for achieving the very difficult task of enabling 28 independent member states to work and cooperate in some areas as well as compete fairly in others. The fear of those who want to hold the EU and its single market together is that, once one breach in a rulebook is made, there is a high risk that other countries will want their own exceptions eventually making the single market a shell with more holes than substance.

It seems that many Leave voters did see their vote as compatible with a close relationship with the single market. If such an agreement can be reached it could gain political and popular support in England and Wales, provided it included a significant restriction to free movement (probably a cap, a points system to cherry pick migrants would not be likely to be acceptable). However, if no such agreement can be reached, the UK will be faced with a stark choice of having at best the same access to the single market as the US or Canada, or and arrangement like Norway’s or Switzerland’s that does not achieve any of the major aims of Brexiteers. By then the impact of Brexit on the UK economy may be more visible especially if investors begin to expect no or few remaining privileges for the UK to be agreed.  Brexiteers might present this as the EU punishing the UK but in fact it would just reflect the normal self-interest of parties to any negotiations. It is precisely to overcome the stumbling blocks that arise when negotiations are based only on each country looking after its self -interest that the structures of the EU were created. The Conservative government should be held to account by pro-EU opposition parties – acting with at least some cooperation – for the consequences for the British economy of every disinvestment or other adverse consequence brought about by the referendum result.

 

The forgotten parts of England and Wales that turned the vote

One domestic aspect of the June 23rd vote is particularly notable . It was always expected that prosperous rural and many suburban areas that usually return Conservative MPs would vote Leave. What was less expected were the Leave majorities in poorer parts of England and Wales that have lost mining or manufacturing industry over the last 30 to 40 years. Most larger towns, apart from Birmingham, voted Remain. But smaller depressed post-industrial towns that have long been safe Labour constituencies voted Leave, a good example being the first significant Leave vote in Sunderland in the north-east, but included towns in the West Midlands, Lancashire, Yorkshire and South Wales. A Panorama programme on BBC on July 4th gave some glimpses of the way people in these towns feel. They feel left out and forgotten and the phrase “Give me my country back” appeared to resonate, but what do they mean by that? It appeared to be a nostalgia for when the towns were thriving manufacturing centres and the high streets full of local shops. There was almost nothing these respondents said in the programme that actually had anything to do with the EU, (such towns are not major magnets for immigration) but nevertheless they appeared not just to be giving a protest vote but to actually believe that leaving the EU would lead to a revival of their towns. Somehow it would seem that UKIP and possibly even Conservative campaigners found ways of raising such hopes. Such hopes are not going to be fulfilled by UKIP and probably not by the Conservatives, but others particularly Labour politicians cannot just wait and let them experience another disillusion. There does need to be concerted efforts made to give back hope to these towns. It should be based on encouraging local initiatives supported from outside. At least for another two years some outside money may continue to come from the EU.

The vote clearly reveals that many English and Welsh people are deeply discontented and implies that the UK’s apparent success in terms of job creation and low overall levels of unemployment hide a labour market which is not functioning as well as people in all major parties have believed. This applies both to areas of high immigration and economically-depressed areas. Minimum wages paid holidays and rights for part-time and temporary employees (some derived from EU legislation) need to be better enforced.

The question Where Now? has only been very partially addressed and will have to be addressed again in the future