How Turkey’s failed coup was democracy’s success

The forces for democracy, both within Turkey and worldwide, stood up to the military plotters. A global infrastructure for freedom makes its harder for would-be strongmen to succeed.

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hold a giant Turkish flag during an anti-coup demonstration outside parliament building in Ankara, Turkey, July 16.

An attempted coup d’état in Turkey July 15 failed for a host of internal reasons, notably the fumbling nature of the military faction trying to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Yet now, as Mr. Erdogan tries to use the bungled putsch to further crack on peaceful dissent, he should recognize how many forces for democracy, within Turkey and worldwide, saved both him and his elected government.

Take the speedy way that Turkey’s four main political parties issued a statement condemning the coup, a rare case of national unity. Or the quickness with which thousands of Turkish civilians, even Erdogan critics, used social media to take to the streets to defend the country’s democracy. With so much digital information available about the military leaders who opposed the coup, the plotters were easily seen as small in number.

Outside Turkey, meanwhile, what can be called the democracy-support community also rapidly kicked into gear. The United States, European Union, and many other democracy backers opposed the coup. Even Russian leader Vladimir Putin spoke up.

Any person or group trying to thwart a democracy these days is up against a global infrastructure of freedom that has been built up since World War II. The number of coups has fallen over the past quarter century, for example. And would-be strongmen must think twice about offending a range of institutions set up to promote democracy worldwide, fight corruption, and defend human rights.

In Turkey’s case, its membership in NATO may have reduced the willingness of Turkey’s top brass to join in this latest coup attempt. Turkey also seeks to join the EU, which requires it to improve its democratic credentials. The country also needs foreign investment, which means that financial bodies such as the International Monetary Fund look hard at its democratic stability.

Many more countries have democratic activists operating in civil society groups. Many governments now have democracy-promotion efforts, such as election support and monitoring. The creation of the International Criminal Court acts as a deterrent to would-be dictators. 

Democracy has suffered setbacks in the past 15 years. But the number of democracies in the world is at an all-time high and 40 percent of the world’s population still lives under fairly elected governments. More people seek the freedoms of democracy and have more tools to push for it. The world was reminded of this progress in Turkey’s failed coup. That country must now move toward more democracy, not less.

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