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Turkish government to propose bringing military under tighter civilian control

Author(s):

By Souad Mekhennet and Thomas Gibbons-Neff

Release Date:

July 2016

ANKARA — In the wake of last week’s failed coup attempt, government officials here are expected to propose changes in the country’s constitution that will give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government more control over the Turkish armed forces, according to Turkish officials.

With the firing and arrests of more than 50,000 Turkish armed forces members, police, judges and bureaucrats after the coup, the move is likely to be seen as a further attempt by Erdogan to consolidate power. Though only a relatively small faction of the Turkish military participated in the failed revolt, military leaders from across the country have been removed from their posts as Erdogan and his government have sought to remove soldiers and officials they describe as coup plotters and sympathizers to its supposed architect, Islamic scholar and U.S. resident Fetuleh Gulen.

Military leaders from across the country have been removed from their posts

According to a Turkish government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement has yet to be made public, an outline of the military restructuring could be proposed as early as Wednesday when the Turkish National Security Council is expected to meet.

“It would be a radical decision for defense-related issues,” the official said.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, confirmed in an interview Tuesday that the issue of civilian oversight of the military — a matter of long-standing debate within Turkish politics — would be addressed during the series of meetings Wednesday.

The issue of civilian oversight of the military would be addressed during the series of meetings Wednesday

Erdogan is expected to attend the National Security Council meeting and has said that he will make an “important” announcement alongside the Council of Ministers afterward, though he would not go into specifics, according to local news reports.

The Turkish military has served as a somewhat independent entity within the government, viewing itself as a defender of the Turkish constitution in the event that any one leader or party threatened the values set forth by the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. And since the 1960s, the military has been responsible for a series of coups in the country. But in recent years, as Turkey has bid to enter the European Union, the military has been subject to more civilian oversight.

Despite the changes, however, the chief of staff still outranks the minister of defense and the military largely controls its own budget, with little civilian oversight.

The chief of staff still outranks the minister of defense

Any revisions will probably change that, the Turkish government official said, bringing the chief of staff under the minister of defense and enacting changes that will give parliament more oversight over the military’s budget and its ranks.

“When we go to the NATO ministerial meetings, the chief of the general staff is sitting in the front and the minister of defense is behind,” Cavusoglu said. “In no other NATO ally can you see this picture.”

In order to make the constitutional changes, Erdogan’s party, although it holds a majority of seats in parliament, will need the support of at least one of the opposition groups to achieve the 330 votes needed to hold a referendum, Cavusoglu said. To avoid a referendum, the ruling party would need a super-majority of 367 votes. There are 550 seats in parliament.

Cavusoglu said that Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had already met with the leaders of the two main opposition groups in parliament ahead of Wednesday’s meetings.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, one of the opposition groups, said in an interview Tuesday that he first needs to see a draft of the changes and will support them if they improve Turkey’s democracy.

“We would be against any regulation that would use the military as a tool of pressure upon society,” Kilicdaroglu said.

Aaron Stein, a Turkey scholar at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with more civilian control over the military. “It depends on what model they use and how it gets drafted,” he said.

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