Economic and democratic failings dog Erdogan as he hits out at criticism from Turkey’s top business association

Economic and democratic failings dog Erdogan as he hits out at criticism from Turkey’s top business association
Tuncay Ozilhan (left) seen presenting a sports award last year.
By bne IntelliNews May 19, 2019

Vulnerable to allegations that he botched Turkey’s economy, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hit out at critical remarks emanating from the Turkish Industry & Business Association (TUSIAD) and its advisory council president, the tycoon Tuncay Ozilhan.

Erdogan, mired like the rest of his countryfolk in a recession following years of credit-fuelled growth that went off the rails, directed his ire in particular at Ozilhan, one of the country’s richest individuals and the head of Anadolu Group.

“What was Turkey’s per capita income 17 years ago, and what is it now?” Erdogan said late on May 16 during a speech in Istanbul, as quoted by Bloomberg. “Economically, at what level were you at the time and where are you now?” he asked, referring to Ozilhan. “Since then, how much has your company grown and how much stronger have your friends become? Don’t you ever assess this?”

Ozilhan last week made comments seen as criticism of Turkey’s economy and governance. If the financing problems of the real sector aren’t solved, they will spread to the banking sector and finance industry; serious problems happen this way,” he said in a speech in Istanbul.

Structural measures are needed to deal with problems now besetting Turkish industry, Ozilhan added. The difficulties following last year’s currency crisis have surfaced in loan restructuring and the spread of applications for protection from creditors to various sectors of the economy, he said. The problems threatened to worsen and keep reoccurring, Ozilhan noted.

Production and sales were falling, new jobs could not be created, unemployment was on the rise, and despite a partial improvement in the outlook, the causes of Turkey’s economic fragility persisted, he concluded, adding that TUSIAD—which represents Turkey’s biggest companies—recognised no clear willingness on the part of the government to deal with structural problems that had triggered a steep increase in food prices. While production problems continued in agriculture, food price trends would stay on an upward path, Ozilhan said.

Trillion-dollar ambition no longer in sight
Turkey’s ambition of becoming a trillion-dollar economy is no longer in sight and—following the annulling of the result of the end of March Istanbul mayoral election which produced the shock defeat of Erdogan’s candidate and was widely regarded as a referendum on the president’s 17-year-long rule—the 71-year-old head of Anadolu Group said that Turkey either had to abide by universal principles of democracy or “it becomes something else”.

Turkey must “overcome issues in its governance system,” Ozilhan added in what was a thinly-veiled criticism of the executive presidential regime that since last year has concentrated power in the hands of Erdogan, though he was already pretty much regarded as a strongman who brooked no real dissent.

“I know how you were doing 17 years ago, and I know how you’re doing now,” Erdogan retorted. “If needed, I can expose that. I know how to bring those who are hitting Turkey from the inside to account.”

Erdogan appears to be growing increasingly intolerant of dissent ahead of a re-run of the Istanbul vote on June 23.

Ozilhan is Turkey’s 94th richest person, with an estimated wealth of $525mn, according to a 2018 list by Forbes magazine. The companies he chairs include listed conglomerate AG Anadolu Grubu Holding, brewer Anadolu Efes Biracilik ve Malt Sanayii AS, supermarket chain Migros Ticaret AS, Coca-Cola Icecek AS and carmaker Anadolu Isuzu Otomotiv Sanayi ve Ticaret AS.