Turkey is being dragged into a “dangerous polarization” in the public sphere, and the country needs to implement some urgent economic and judicial reforms before it can maintain its growth and stability, president of leading business group the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSİAD) Haluk Dinçer said in İstanbul on Wednesday.
In his first comprehensive address to the media on markets and domestic politics after replacing former President Muharrem Yılmaz earlier this month, Dinçer called on all parties involved to help ease the lingering political tension at home. The top union president maintained his criticisms of the government, saying it had backtracked on calls to make necessary structural reforms in various fields.
While mentioning reforms, Dinçer once again stressed that the European Union remains an anchor through which Turkey can upgrade its social and economic standards. Dinçer said membership talks with the EU have stalled, particularly after a sovereign debt crisis hit the continent, and that the parties involved should accelerate efforts to make progress in these talks.
Observers had earlier argued that the March local elections in Turkey may have been greeted with enthusiasm by investors, but the challenge for the government will be to carry out the reforms that the market expects. This is a common concern across emerging markets. Due to its reliance on the flow of foreign investment, Turkey is cited among the so-called Fragile Five economies, along with Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa.
Dinçer said Turkey’s serious polarization is a factor that the country’s new president, to be elected in August, must seek to eliminate. He added that the use of discriminatory discourse in politics makes this polarization even worse. “A discriminatory political rhetoric fuels polarization among the public, and there is a lack of healthy communication between separate institutions and political parties,” Dinçer asserted. He said the new president should also contribute to efforts to minimize this polarization and find common ground between opposing ideologies and political camps in Turkey.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will announce its candidate for the August presidential election at a parliamentary group meeting next Tuesday, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan widely expected to be its choice. Last week, the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said they had agreed to nominate Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, who stepped down from his role as head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December, as their joint candidate for the presidential race.
TÜSİAD, Dinçer said, has neither participated in nor allowed itself to be seen as participating in what he called serious ideological polarization, and it has never supported any particular party. He pledged to maintain TÜSİAD’s political neutrality in the future. “This polarization is so serious that it cannot be left unresolved. The presidential election is a chance to solve this. Whoever is elected president, his or her first duty should be to eliminate this polarization from Turkey,” he said.
Dinçer also addressed the ongoing settlement process with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), launched by the Turkish government in October of 2012 to end the country’s decades-old terrorism problem, calling the process an “exceptional, courageous initiative.” TÜSİAD has supported the process from the beginning, he said. But he had some critical words about the handling of the settlement process: “The process is not sufficiently transparent. The necessary steps have not been taken. The opposition has not been sufficiently involved in the process.”