Turkey coup: What is a coup and how often do they succeed?

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The news is breaking this evening that the military in Turkey appear to be staging a coup, reports suggest.

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But what is a coup exactly?

Its full definition, the French coup d’etat, it literally means a ‘blow of state’, ie an overthrow of those in power.

One successful coup was the Nazi take over of power in 1933. The German government installed a totalitarian dictatorship after the Reichstag was set on fire and a communist was arrested and charged with starting the blaze.

The German public thought it meant a communist takeover could be imminent, and the following Reichstag Fire Decree led to civil liberties being removed and effectively handed Hitler dictatorial powers.

In 2015 there was a plot to overthrow Gambia’s president. Several gunmen – including Faal and Njie – are said to have attacked the state house, hoping to overwhelm the presidential guard with the M4 semi-automatic rifles and other military equipment that they had smuggled into the country. But the President was out of the country.

Thailand has had more coups than any other country. Since 1932, the country has endured 11 successful military coups as well as seven attempted coups.

According to expert Jay Ulfelder: “Almost all coup attempts, successful or failed, occur in countries that are relatively poor and have political regimes that mix features of autocracy and democracy.”

Turkey is a parliamentary representative democracy. Since its foundation as a republic in 1923, Turkey has developed a strong tradition of secularism.

The President of the Republic is the head of state and has a largely ceremonial role. The president is elected for a five-year term by direct elections and Tayyip Erdoğan is the first president elected by direct voting.

Executive power is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers which make up the government, while the legislative power is vested in the unicameral parliament, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature, and the Constitutional Court is charged with ruling on the conformity of laws and decrees with the constitution. The Council of State is the tribunal of last resort for administrative cases, and the High Court of Appeals for all others.

Universal suffrage for both sexes has been applied throughout Turkey since 1933, and every Turkish citizen who has turned 18 years of age has the right to vote. There are 550 members of parliament who are elected for a four-year term by a party-list proportional representation system from 85 electoral districts. The Constitutional Court can strip the public financing of political parties that it deems anti-secular or separatist, or ban their existence altogether. The electoral threshold is 10 percent of the votes.

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