With a cautious smile on her face, Ümit Boyner, the chairwoman of Turkey’s Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD), tries to formulate her words in a way not to lead to yet another polemic starting between the top investors’ club in Turkey and the government. Given the fact that some of her criticism regarding the economic and political aspects of the investment environment have been slammed by members of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government, Boyner wants to keep her title safe as one of the few TÜSİAD chairmen who have not been sued by the former governments’ members before she completes her three-year term in slightly more than a month.
TÜSİAD, with nearly 600 selected members (owning some 4,000 companies) paying a 23,000 Turkish Lira (app $13,000) yearly fee, deserves to be called the Club of Bosses in Turkey. They produce 50 percent of added value in the country, paying 85 percent of the corporate taxes and employing 60 percent of the registered workforce, other than public servants and agriculture workers.
“When I was elected as chairwoman in 2010,” she says during a dinner in Istanbul with a group of journalists on Dec. 19, “We declared two of Turkey’s main problems as the current accounts deficit and democracy deficit. Despite some positive developments we have to say after three years that Turkey has still a lot of things to do in both areas.”
But TÜSİAD faces “Why are you commenting on issues other than the economy?” from Erdoğan and his ministers. “Because Turkey is a middle income and middle democracy country and we do not want it to be trapped at this level,” Boyner answers. “As a civil society institution having responsibilities, our vision should not be limited to the economy alone. Capitalism is transforming itself by trying to answer the question of who is to pay the bill for the economic crisis. That is why we see the re-election of Barack Obama in the U.S. as a turning point. Therefore, we see freedoms and a state of law in the same context as economic growth.”
In the field of economy TÜSİAD appreciates the performance of the government in certain areas. She points out the “remarkable” 36 percent of public debt to gross national product in 2012 was targeted to be dragged down to 31 percent. In wealth distribution TÜSİAD thinks Turkey is in better shape than before; the ratio of household debt to GNP is now 20 percent, she adds. “There is a risky 2013 ahead of us and if Turkey continues to rely on export markets only, the growth might be under the 3 percent target, which may put unemployment under more pressure.
And for the “democracy deficit,” as she defines it, the Parliamentary effort to write a new Constitution might be a chance. She underlines five main topics to close the democracy deficit:
1- Freedom of religion: Individuals could be as pious or not as they want, but the state should be secular and the Religious Affairs Directorate should embrace all religions.
2- Kurdish problem: The new Constitution should handle it as an identity issue to free the problem from two extremes; forced assimilation and separatism.
3- Freedom of expression and press: The criticism regarding the situation in Turkey including the journalists in jail should not be ignored.
4- Separation of powers: Is a basic issue for democratic life. The executive, legislative and judicial branches should be separate but complementary, not alternatives to each other.
5- Fair representation: The 10 percent election hurdle should be lowered and the political parties law should be changed to allow in-house democracy.
“Turkey should not fall into the mid-income, mid-democracy trap,” Boyner says, “That’s why we need a qualitative jump, in addition to a quantitative one.”