Turkish junta gives top priority to salvaging precarious economy
Istanbul — Turkey's precarious, debt-ridden economy is being given top priority by this country's new military rulers. Eroded by near 100 percent inflation, wobbling under the weight of billions of dollars in foreign debts, slowed by chronic inefficiencies, by 20 percent unemployment, and by rampant terrorism, the Turkish economy has long been in desperate need of repair.
That process was started even before last week's bloodless coup. Some $3 billion owed to Western governments had been rescheduled and former Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, now in "protective custody," launched a last-ditch austerity program.
but now the nation's military strongman, Gen. Kenan Evren, is demanding a renewed drive for "mobilization of all resources and of production." In discussions with senior economic officials, he has emphasized that he wants every effort made to get both private and state- owned enterprises working "at full capacity."
As first steps, the National Security Council (the new junta) has:
* Ordered all strikers back to their jobs amid strict security precautions at reopening factories.
* Given a 70 percent pay raise to all who compiled.
* Appointed a respected Turkish economist and former Demirel adviser, Turgut Ozal, as the effective new premier.
* Avoided any rush on the banks by assuring Turks that all bank assets are "under the protections and guarantee of the state."
* Instructed officials to take necessary measures to prevent fuel shortages this winter.
Some results of these moves are already becoming apparent.
As of Sept. 15 about 50,000 strikers in factories throughout the country resumed work. Some of them had been on strike for several months.
Most of the strikers belonged to the pro-Marxist labor Union Confederation (DISK) which, together with the right-wing Labor Confederation (MISK), was closed down Sept. 12 immediately after the coup. Some of the DISK and MISK leaders have been detained, and the martial law command has appealed to those who are still at large to surrender to the authorities as soon as possible.
(The major and strongest labor confederation [Turk-IS], which is moderate, has not been closed, although all labor union activities have been banned.)
No resistance was reported in any of the factories when they resumed work. However, fearing such a possibility, strict security measures were taken. Armored vehicles were placed at the entrance of some plants in the outskirts of Istanbul, and all personnel were carefully checked while armed soldiers patrolled inside the plants. All wall posters and other inscriptions or slogans were erased.
Banks throughout Turkey also resumed their activities on Monday following the NSC assurance that bank assets would be guaranteed. It was business as usual again.
Other measures are being considered, including a tax reform program, which previous civilian administrations failed to enact. General Evren is understood to have asked the Finance Ministry to draft a new law to ease the tax burden on low-income earners. It is scheduled for quick discussion by the NSC.
The military leaders seem to have full confidence in Mr. Ozal and his policy, and business circles are happy with this attitude. It is believed that Mr. Ozal will be responsible for the economic affairs in the new council of ministers, mainly technocrats, which General Evren is expected to announce this week. Indications are that the bilateral economic program undertaken by the Demirel administration will be continued. It had started to pay some dividends lately. The inflation rate has been going down and all shortages (except for Brazilian coffee) have ended, together with the long queues for many commodities that were familiar only a year ago.
The instructions on fuel supplies are intended to prevent any repeat of the situation last winter when Turks shivered for months because of fuel shortages. Now, there seem to be enough stocks of fuel and petrol throughout the country.
Economists say that if the Western allies and international agencies keep their pledge of assisting Turkey, the economy will continue to improve.