Democracy is Ending Where It Began: The Example of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB)

Pursuant to Articles 2 and 135 of the Constitution, there are fierce elections in chambers of commerce and industry and stock exchanges, which are public professional organizations subject to democratic governance. The central administration of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) is said to have brought forward its own elections and is preparing for the 2023 general elections.

The people who have influenced their election to the TOBB central administration through various methods will most probably be elected as executives and TOBB delegates, and then they will most probably re-elect the TOBB president and administration. The fact that the president of the TOBB has been in this position for more than 20 years is enough to prove this point. An outspoken chamber president said that after this election, he would be called by the TOBB and asked to write a letter supporting the current TOBB administration, and that he would write and send it even if he did not feel like it. Because even a cutback in the union’s support would be an effective sanction enough.

Leader and central authority in every institution

This situation, which is much more severe in political parties in terms of the authority of leaders and central administrations, also applies to bar associations and other professional organizations. Once in control of the unions and central institutions in Ankara, the sultans of the day use the facilities of the central union to recruit local administrations and delegates to re-elect them. These semi-official professional organizations, where the public and the state administration meet and have a voice and influence on issues, are like the backyard of politics. Politicians, who see them as fortified positions to be captured, also get involved, using their influence to get their supporters elected.

Disgraceful block list elections

The most disgraceful method in this unpleasant theater is the block list elections prepared behind closed doors. The aim is not to make the institutions work well, but to capture them and remove those who think differently from the administration. If there are different lists, the result is polarized, with winners who get everything on the one hand and losers on the other. The interference of politicians and union central administration in these elections turns the election race, which should be limited to professional issues, into a political vendetta.

In the Istanbul Bar Association, eight different lists participated in the previous elections. In the second round, the list that received 8,000 votes out of more than 45,000 lawyers won. Over 37,000 lawyers were not represented in the administration: they were entirely marginalized from the administration of the bar association and the union. A new administration emerged in which the minority dominates the majority. It was impossible to solve the problems of lawyers with common sense and consensus. In order to reach common sense, the administration is trying to establish consultative councils under different names. Yet the efforts are futile; without the effective participation of those who do not currently participate in the administration, who are deprived of the opportunity to use the powers and opportunities of the administration, it is not possible for a common mind to emerge.

Turkey’s “national chief-President” disease

Turkey’s main administrative problem is right here. Those who seize power on their own and exclude their opponents from the administration think that they can best govern those they exclude when they use power arbitrarily. Whether you turn your head to the right or to the left, whether you look at the central administration or the municipalities, or at the semi-official professional organizations, you see the same administrative defect: a national chief and others in every institution; on one side, a president who exercises all powers alone and surrounded by boards of directors who are completely subordinate to him; on the other side, assemblies that have no authority at all. This is the same in the parliament and in the municipal councils. Those who boast of being the descendants of Genghis Khan, who seize the presidential positions through various intrigues and identify themselves with the Great Khan, are not even aware that his first principle of governance was that the best way to govern is to sit around a table with your fiercest rival.

Necessarily corporate democratic governance

Democratic administration is the art of bringing together and reconciling different and opposing viewpoints and converting them into advancement. Democratic state institutions are formal institutional platforms that bring together different and opposing viewpoints and that belong to everyone and every group.

Democracy is not a game of squatting in political parties, taking over institutions, putting your own people in key positions, seizing massive state power and using it arbitrarily, gaining numerical superiority in the parliament, which has been turned into a notary that certifies everything, and putting the ballot box in front of the people only when the result can be predicted or manipulated such that the bickering politicians will come out on top.

An institutionalized democracy is the best and most advanced system of administration for a large state or a small institution or company, as it brings all stakeholders together and ensures that everyone’s views are considered, and that decisions are made with common sense and are adopted by all.

The beginning and end point of democracy

Professional organizations that give their members the opportunity to participate in the professional matters of administration are the institutions where democracy emerges and the culture of democratic administration flourishes. It is in these institutions that democracy begins, and from which it spreads to all other institutions of the country.

So I say to the Turkish people: throw out these block list elections, let everyone who is capable of doing so sit in the seats they deserve, do not antagonize your competitors, make friends, and meet around the same table. Look for, find and realize solutions to the common problems of all of you and everyone together. Don’t become locked in the backyard of politicians for petty gain or for the sake of needless, unhelpful fears. Put pressure on politicians to fulfill the rights and interests of the members from whom you forcibly collect dues, and do not stand forelock-tugging at their doors.

Do not forget that what you should demand first and foremost is the rule of law and to make the judiciary competent, producing quality services, compliant with the law at the highest level and deserving of full independence in order to ensure it in every field. When that is achieved, that is when there will be an advanced democracy and rule of law, that is when your profits will increase three to four times in a short period of time, that is when your assets, which have already fallen to one-fourth of their value, will find their real value.

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