Erdoğan will 'settle the score' with business leader after criticism

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan railed against Tuncay Özilhan, the leader of TUSIAD, Turkey's leading business group, at an iftar dinner held with homeland security personnel in Ankara on Thursday.

Özilhan, the owner of the Anadolu Group conglomerate and one of Turkey’s most influential businessmen, harshly criticized the government for its handling the Istanbul elections on Wednesday.

“Our (central bank) reserves are evaporating, the people’s purchasing power is diminishing. Turkish citizens are abandoning the lira. Turkey’s blood is being shed in global competitiveness”, Özilhan said of the recent economic situation in Turkey.

Turkey's Supreme Election Council (YSK), on May 6, ruled to cancel March 31 Istanbul election and scheduled it to rerun it on June 23. The decision is widely perceived to have been taken under the pressure of the Erdoğan government, and economists fear the election rerun will delay vital economic reform.

The TÜSİAD leader’s noteworthy remarks included an apparent comparison of the Istanbul rerun to Turkey’s lengthy history of military coups. “Even despite our history of coups, our democracy always worked, we always returned to democracy”, Özilhan said, after demanding voters’ will is respected.

Özilhan went on to present dismal figures on Turkey's labour market, and said the lack of an independent judiciary and poor record of press freedom, had contributed to Turkey’s stalling economy.

Writing for independent news site T24, Turkish journalist Murat Sabuncu said Özilhan’s decision to break TÜSİAD’s tradition of remaining silent on political matters showed that the situation in Turkey has become so unbearable for businesses that they are willing to risk political reprisals by speaking out.

Erdoğan said Özilhan's speech stank of "indigestion of democracy" and accused him of trying to "blacken Turkey's name".

The Turkish president frequently attacks his perceived enemies during public meetings and speeches, though he usually alludes to them indirectly rather than mentioning them by name.

Erdoğan’s numerous direct attacks on Özilhan at Thursday's iftar, are a likely indicator of the importance the president places on the businessman and his anger at his recent statements.

Erdoğan finished the iftar speech by saying there were many foreign enemies looking to attack Turkey, but that he knew “how to hold accountable” those inside the country.

The Turkish president has over nearly two decades in power shown numerous ways of "holding accountable" those he sees as enemies, including but not limited to levying hefty taxes, launching investigations and bringing terror charges against them.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.