Bosses, unions clash over referendum results

Bosses, unions clash over referendum results

Ümit Boyner’s TÜSİAD is now facing an intense rift inside after the results of Sept. 12 referendum on Constitutional amendments.

September 22, 2010, Wednesday/ 17:08:00
The national vote held on Sept. 12 on the package of constitutional amendments proposed by the government has caused rifts not only among political parties but also civil society organizations. Those organizations that campaigned for “no” votes against the package are now in turmoil, after the package was passed in the referendum with 58 percent of the vote.

The rifts inside businessmen's organizations the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) and Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) as well as professional worker unions began before the referendum, but the tensions have been elevated in the aftermath of the vote. TÜSİAD and TOBB kept more or less silent during the campaigning process, refraining for the most part from endorsing or directly speaking about the package. This stance was criticized by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who told the two organizations, “Those who do not take a side get eliminated in the end.” Following this, TÜSİAD President Ümit Boyner made a statement, saying they did not have to endorse a certain view.

Sources say Boyner and one of her predecessors, Güler Sabancı, are on sour terms because of Sabancı’s referendum strategy. The business world has been busy questioning the meaning of the 58 percent support for the package. The “yes” vote that came out of the ballot has also contributed to a hike in the stock exchange as well as overall optimism about the economy. Boyner recently announced that her organization will be drafting a sample constitution, which they will later present to the political parties in Ankara.

A TÜSİAD member who spoke to Today’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity says the referendum has caused deep rifts inside TÜSİAD, also known as the “bosses’ club.” The same individual recalled that many a member of TÜSİAD made statements in favor of the package unlike the administration, which our source says was misguided by some journalists and political party leaders.

The same TÜSİAD member said that Sabancı has increased criticism of the Boyner administration particularly after the referendum. She has particularly been critical of Boyner’s apparently contradictory attitude since the Boyner administration, which opposed the amendment package, will now be suggesting a new constitution.

According to the same businessman, Sabancı believes that it can be understood why TÜSİAD kept silent ahead of the referendum -- despite having called for a new constitution many times -- but she is finding it hard to explain the contradiction created by Boyner’s decision to draft a sample constitution to be proposed to politicians. Sabancı also does not plan to support Boyner and she shared this information with government members during a reception in Ankara on Sept. 20.

Meanwhile, some in the TÜSİAD say that the government might not even schedule an appointment with the Boyner administration. However, others yet say the government might schedule a low profile meeting with Boyner because the government will be focusing on a new constitution as its theme in the upcoming 2011 elections.

Deep schism in TOBB

A similar situation is unfolding in TOBB. A large number of the member industrial chambers were on the “no” front, while most trade chambers supported the package. TOBB members include chambers of commerce and chambers of industry that are active in 78 provinces. However, there are also rifts among industrial chambers, recent reports indicate.

TOBB President Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu first said they were supportive of a new constitution but would remain silent during the campaign. A few days ahead of the referendum, he said he would vote yes personally, but this explanation was not satisfactory enough for the Erdoğan government.

Sources close to TOBB say six out of 15 administrators on the TOBB board are now openly and harshly criticizing the president and TOBB’s attitude during the campaign season ahead of the referendum. These individuals include head of the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO) Murat Yalçıntaş, Diyarbakır Commodity Exchange President Fahrettin Akyıl, Konya Chamber of Commerce President Hüseyin Üzülmez and Gaizantep Chamber of Industry President Nejat Koçer. Many of these individuals had spoken openly during the campaign saying they would be supporting the package.

A poll conducted among all the chambers of industry that are members of the TOBB in 78 provinces found that 32 of the chambers favored the package. Those who were against it included the industry chambers of İstanbul, Antalya, Mersin, İzmir and Kocaeli .

Some TOBB members have accused Hisarcıklıoğlu of not being rid of the influence of former president Süleyman Demirel, saying his political ambitions might have also kept him from being on the right side in the referendum.

Fight among unions

A similar situation can be seen among professional unions, particularly Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), the biggest victim of the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’état, after which the current constitution was enacted. DİSK has been criticized for endorsing “no” votes but then filing charges against the general that led the 1980 coup d’état the day after the constitutional amendment package -- which included an article that removed a ban on indicting 1980 generals -- was passed.

DİSK former Secretary General Fehmi Işıklar had called on DİSK members in the east and southeast to vote in favor of the package. The last rift however, mainly stems from DİSK filing a criminal complaint against the Sept. 12 generals. Many sub-unions are now criticizing DİSK President Süleyman Çelebi for inconsistency.

Another union, TÜRK-İŞ, is also in the same situation as it endorsed “no” votes but would like to become part of the new Constituiton making process. Sources say the administration is roundly embarrassed for the referendum mistake.

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