At a meeting of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSİAD) on Oct. 19, the head of the organization’s High Advisory Council (TÜSİAD YİK), Tuncay Özilhan, and president of TÜSİAD Simone Kaslowski called for an immediate return to secularism and rule of law in Turkey.
According to reporting by daily Cumhuriyet, the two business leaders called for an end to political interference in the Central Bank, the judiciary, and the democratic process.
TÜSİAD worked closely with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government at the beginning of its tenure, encouraging the party’s pro-Western stance and the European Union accession process.
However, as President Erdoğan and the AKP drifted further from the West and towards a more Islamic, conservative rule of law, TÜSİAD diverged from the ruling party. It began operating its own form of public diplomacy, opening international offices in Brussels and Washington, D.C. President Erdoğan has openly criticized the business association on numerous occasions.
In the meeting on Oct. 19, Özilhan emphasized the need for a return to secularism in Turkey. He said that the most important step taken by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, was to make Turkey a secular state 100 years ago. He focused on three points in his speech: the independence of the judiciary, the importance of free and fair participation in democratic processes, and strengthening oversight so as to enable a transparent, accountable administrative process.
In particular, he highlighted the need for a better separation of powers in Turkey. The country, he said, needs to strengthen “judicial review with balance and supervisory mechanisms in order to strengthen the separation of powers, and establishing a transparent, accountable, less centralized and effective public administration approach. Taking these steps will form the basis of building the future together.”
Kaslowski also spoke of the decline of Turkey under the current government. In particular, he highlighted the need for Turkey to rejoin the Istanbul Convention and address women’s rights, to address brain drain and the plight of Turkish youth, and to maintain the founding, secularist principles of the Turkish Republic
He in particular called on Turkish history, stating that the country achieved women’s rights before many others.
"The most important indicator of human development is the position of women in society […] It is acceptable to leave the Istanbul Convention in Turkey, where women obtained their political rights before many developed countries,” he said.
Further, he highlighted that Turkey is experiencing a rapid, unprecedented loss of educated youth, who are seeking opportunities abroad due to the dire nature of the economy.
“Our most talented, educated, talented young people with dreams, our students, are looking for their futures in other countries. […] Youth unemployment, the narrowing of freedoms, and the decrease in the possibility of establishing a high quality of life have caused the migration of this new generation to accelerate. Our doctors, software developers, entrepreneurs, and creative minds are leaving our country to establish their future elsewhere,” he added.
Kaslowski, like Özilhan, called on the Turkish government to return to its founding principles of secularism, democracy, and a separation of powers in order to mitigate the economy and political environments’ accelerating degradation.