The Straits Times says

Tackling the root of Turkish unrest

The swift and decisive defeat of the coup attempt in Turkey sends a message to other insurrectionary hopefuls that subverting constitutional processes is not the answer to a nation's problems, no matter how insistent they might be. In a striking manner, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rallied masses of the political faithful to resist and finally reverse the attempt by a coterie of military officers to overturn the will of citizens, as embodied in their Parliament and the presidency.

This rebuff was testimony to the political evolution of a country where the military, created to serve the people in the interests of the state, once had arrogated to itself guardianship of the state. In doing so, it had operated above both the agency of the people and the mandate that it had given to the government. The masses which took to the streets of Istanbul and Ankara this time thwarted the bid at regression to a pre-democratic past. They averted as well what could have led to a civil war between proponents and opponents of constitutional change in Turkey. Tragically, almost 250 people who had resisted the attempted coup were killed in a brief but telling episode in contemporary Turkish history.

The coup drew renewed attention to the influence of United States-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. A former ally-turned-nemesis of Mr Erdogan, his followers occupy a wide swathe of the Turkish educational, bureaucratic, judicial and military establishment. The Turkish government is seeking the extradition of the charismatic leader to hold him accountable for his alleged role in the uprising. Unfortunately, an anti-Gulen purge has resulted in more than 50,000 state employees being rounded up, fired or suspended. About 100 top military officers have been charged. The scale of the crackdown suggests that the coup plotters acted in the belief that they could draw on the insurgent energies of a not insubstantial part of the population. Whether or not Washington permits Mr Gulen's extradition, Ankara must ask itself why a single preacher has become so powerful as to run what it calls a parallel state. Mr Gulen is the question, not the answer.

That answer might lie in the limits of the authoritarian rule through which President Erdogan has sought to reshape Turkey. His leadership has transformed the fractious nature of Turkish politics into a polity able to move ahead on the economic and social fronts. However, the emaciation of national institutions such as the media has proved deleterious to the achievement of a truly national consensus. His Islamisation programme alienated many in a quintessentially secular state straddling Asia and Europe. The declaration of a state of emergency gives the government the power to act against those whom it accuses of having fomented or participated in the coup. Why they did so deserves greater attention.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Tackling the root of Turkish unrest'. Print Edition | Subscribe