Incoming TÜSİAD boss warns of ‘rising polarization’ in Turkey

Incoming TÜSİAD boss warns of ‘rising polarization’ in Turkey

Incoming TÜSİAD boss warns of ‘rising polarization’ in Turkey

The new chairman of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) speaks during a press conference in Istanbul, June 25.

The new head of Turkey’s top business organization has said Turkey’s largest problem is “severe social polarization,” while vowing to “avoid taking sides,” speaking at his first comprehensive meeting with the media after taking the post two weeks ago.

Sabancı Holding Retail Chief Haluk Dinçer, who was elected as the new chairman of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) at an emergency meeting after his predecessor stepped down, used the June 25 meeting to reflect on the much-anticipated question what TÜSİAD’s political stance will be under his stewardship. He mostly focused on what he called the “escalating polarization in society” and criticized politicians for sharpening this by using “divisive discourse.” 

“Unfortunately, Turkey’s agenda has been defeated by severe social polarization, which doesn’t allow reconciliation,” Dinçer said.

“It’s not just what is said, but who says it that matters [in current politics]. There is a theoretically a democratic order in Turkey but we can’t yet benefit from it,” he said.

The TÜSİAD head said all institutions were being affected by this situation, leading to “unhealthy relationships between institutions.”

“There can be different ideas in democracies. Our expectation from the government and from political parties is to empathize with different opinions … The government should see different voices as a wealth. We expect self-criticism and an end to polarization, which we hope will be temporary,” Dinçer said.

Pledge for good relations with government

While expressing some tough criticism, the incoming TÜSİAD leader also sought to emphasize that his organization would be committed to keeping its relationship with the government “warm.”

“TÜSİAD doesn’t have luxury of getting hurt or offended by anybody. We have to establish our relationship with the government in the best and most efficient way,” Dinçer said. 

TÜSİAD has traditionally been an influential actor in Turkish politics since its establishment in 1971. However, particularly during the Justice and Development’s (AKP) period in power its relations with the government have been bumpy.

Dinçer’s predecessor, Muharem Yılmaz, had a particularly rocky relationship with the government during his year-and-a-half tenure at the helm of TÜSİAD. The CEO of food company Sütaş had been vocal on rights issues, particularly on the government’s controversial laws restricting Internet freedoms and restructuring the judiciary.

His criticisms about the government’s response to the December corruption probes resulted in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declaring him “a traitor.”