Turkish opposition lawmakers said the government was advancing an Islamist agenda after a law was passed banning all alcohol advertising together with night-time alcohol sales at stores. Local businesses and foreign investors expressed concern.
“The rapid introduction of this bill is both surprising and disappointing,” Managing Director of Diageo Plc (DGE) in Turkey Galip Yorgancioglu said in an e-mailed statement today. Bendevi Palandoken, head of a confederation of tradesmen, TESK, said the law would hit 185,000 buffets licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, especially after 10 p.m. when supermarkets are closed, Hurriyet newspaper reported today.
All promotion of alcoholic drinks, including advertising, will be barred under the legislation, as well as sales at stores between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., under a clause added shortly before the measure passed in parliament in Ankara last night. The law takes force when signed by President Abdullah Gul, a former member of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party.
Erdogan banned alcoholic beverages at municipally run restaurants when he was Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s. The new law is the toughest nationwide curb on alcohol introduced since the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party came to power more than a decade ago. The prime minister said last month that ayran, a salted yogurt drink, was Muslim Turkey’s national beverage, rather than anything alcoholic.
During the parliamentary debate on the bill, opposition lawmakers accused Erdogan and his party of social engineering.
“This is a religious, ideological enforcement,” said Musa Cam of the secular Republican People’s Party. “What they want to do is to redesign the society based on their own beliefs and culture.”
Diageo, the world’s largest distiller of alcoholic beverages, paid $2.1 billion for Mey Icki, a producer of the traditional Turkish spirit raki in 2011.
Yorgancioglu said that in acquiring Mey Icki, Diageo had been investing “not only in a business with great beverage alcohol brands, but also in a country that was encouraging of foreign investment and which promoted its stable regulatory regime.”
Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek told reporters in Istanbul that the law may lead to lower tax revenue if it reduces demand for alcoholic drinks, though he said the government has “no guess” about the impact. Turkey collects about 8 billion liras ($4.3 billion) a year of alcohol taxes, he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said Turkey was merely copying standards on alcoholic beverages applied in Europe and the U.S. Addressing a meeting of party members in Ankara today, Erdogan said the measures conform to Turkish constitutional clauses designed to protect young people from bad habits.
“We don’t want a generation which is high on alcohol day and night,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has repeatedly objected to drinking scenes in popular soap operas. Violators of the promotion bans can be fined as much as 200,000 liras.
Erdogan’s party attempted to criminalize adultery in 2004, before stepping back under pressure from the European Union.
Hasip Kaplan, a Kurdish lawmaker, said the ruling party was imposing its “own lifestyle” on the nation. He warned the law will hurt tourism, which “can’t recover easily once collapsed,” according to the state-run Anatolia agency.
Turyid, a group representing Turkish restaurants and entertainment companies, said in a statement on May 16 that Turkey has Europe’s lowest alcohol consumption at 1.5 liters per capita.
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