Don’t let politics get you down, President Gül tells TÜSİAD
President Abdullah Gül shakes hands with the leader of the main opposition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (R), and Doğan TV Holding President Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındağ (2R). AA PhotoTurkish President Abdullah Gül has called on Turkish business leaders to remain optimistic despite political tensions in the country, asking them to work together to move the Turkish economy forward in spite of recent challenges.
“You shouldn’t depress yourselves, focus on your business,” Gül said, addressing some of Turkey’s most prominent business leaders.
Speaking at the Supreme Consultation Council meeting of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) on April 17, the president said, “We all saw how tense the pre-election period was,” but asked private sector representatives not to be discouraged by the events.
“One shouldn’t give way to pessimism because there are other elections upon us,” he said.
“This is the political tradition in the country. Of course, there are no such traditions in advanced economies. I believe these things will change in our country as well,” he said.
After recalling the progress made in several fields of the economy in his remarks, Gül said Turkey should now find ways to build on the gains of the past 10 years.
“Today we should appreciate where we stand now and talk about how we can move forward,” he said.
The president also said Turkey was no longer a low/middle-income country, but added that the country was intent on rising even further.
“Our intention is not to continue like that. All of us aim to become a more high-income country,” he said, declaring this to be the major issue Turkey needs to tackle.
According to Gül, “achieving high democratic standards” is the first precondition to joining the ranks of advanced economies.
“Only stability and an environment of trust can grow the country,” he said, underlining the importance of trust in political stability to maintain the welfare of the economy.
The president also praised TÜSİAD, which has a tense relationship with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan because of the institution’s critical stance on some of the government’s policies.
“I know how much TÜSİAD has worked for [Turkey’s] EU path. I congratulate all of you because of this,” Gül said.
Gül argued that nobody should be alarmed and said further economic success would help to change stubborn political traditions.
“I believe that things will change in the coming years. Nobody should depress the business world,” he said, acknowledging that the country’s growth would be possible only be possible through stability and confidence.
The last few months in the run-up to the March 30 local elections were marked by heated political debates surrounding a corruption probe involving the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which went public on Dec. 17, 2013.
With nary a dull moment since then, Turkey is now preparing for its first direct presidential election in August, followed by parliamentary elections in June 2015. Whether Gül will continue for a second term or whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will run for the presidential post is a key question currently occupying the news agenda.
The public fight between the government and U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet (“Service”) network, which had already begun before the Dec. 17 probes, contributed significantly to ratcheting up political tension. Erdoğan describes members of the network, which wields influence in state institutions including the police and the judiciary, as a “parallel state,” and accuses them of orchestrating the corruption scandal against him, including by illegally wiretapping thousands of government phones over years and leaking “manipulated” recordings on social media.
“In the state system, the Constitution and the laws are binding. Within the state system, separate states, separate formations and solidarities that take their references from other places are definitely out of the question. Turkey becoming transparent and practicing law within this framework are the most important tests for Turkey in order to become a high-income country,” Gül said, adding that “nobody should be concerned” about the upcoming elections.
“What matters is not having ambiguity in rules. The past ambiguities and artificial crises that were created eventually brought new arrangements. Now we have certain rules. That’s why everybody should be involved with their business. The business world’s success is also the success of the government,” the president added.
“I’m sure everybody is aware of what I have been saying,” he said, implying that the government was also aware of the business world’s importance for the country’s well-being. “Of course, discussions take place from the current conjuncture.”
'Businessmen are concerned over political developments'
TÜSİAD Chairman Muharrem Yılmaz, who took the stage before Gül, said businessmen are concerned over the political developments and the course of the democratization performance of the country.
He said the steep slowdown in economic growth is partially caused by chronic micro and economic problems as well as decreased demand, “but there are also politically-related reasons.”
According to him, some of the reasons behind loss of pace in Turkish economic growth are the damage occurred on the legal basis and lack of economic reform will.
“Turkey, which was an example four or five years ago, is now perceived as though it has lagged behind in some issues. We feel there are deficiencies in the will for democratization and we also hear so from other friends,” he said.
He used his speech to deliver a message that also focused on the necessity of the adoption of democratic principles and a reliable justice system to establish a developed economy.
“If Turkey wants to have an advanced economy it should have an advanced democracy,” Yılmaz said, laying a special emphasis on the law.
“The law lays in the foundation of democracy. Law is the contract of living together, binds individuals to each other. That is exactly why we should cement the law and not let it be trampled upon,” he said.
“Judiciary institutions must gain society’s absolute trust,” he also stated amid a heated debate over questions of political meddling with the judiciary that has dominated the Turkish political agenda.
Impact of government policies
The head of TÜSİAD’s Supreme Consultation Council, Erkut Yücaoğlu, delivered an even more critically toned speech, expressing great concerns over the impact of some government policies on Turkey’s global image.
He said businessmen feel the Turkish government’s policies with Syria prompt the perception that Turkey is becoming alienated from rest of the international community.
Touching upon the leaked audio recordings of a conversation between top foreign policy officials on the Syria issue, Yücaoğlu dubbed the eavesdropping on the Foreign Ministry building as a “weakness in intelligence and an issue of national security.”
He also slammed “the polarizing factors in the March 30 local elections and efforts to take media under control,” for not “being compatible with advanced democracy.”
Stating the bans on Twitter and YouTube also put Turkey in “an undesired position,” Yücaoğlu said if Turkey wants to be part of Western society, “we need to meet the political and ally-related requirements to do so.”
Also mentioning economic problems, the TÜSİAD representative took notice of the stagnation in sectors such as automotive and construction and asked the government “if the growth will be maintained by only a rise in exports,” which has been the country’s strongest side since the beginning of this year.