Threat by Turkey’s Erdoğan to remove Kurdish mayors after election a rejection of democracy - MP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threat to remove any mayors chosen in local elections next March deemed to be “contaminated by terrorism” is a rejection of democracy and an attempt to scare voters away from the main pro-Kurdish party, one of its members of parliament said.

Turkish authorities stepped up pressure on the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) following the breakdown of a ceasefire with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in July 2015. The government says the HDP is, in effect, the political wing of the PKK.

The crackdown gained momentum after a failed coup a year later that Erdogan’s government blames on its fellow Islamist former allies in the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands have been arrested and more have been sacked from their jobs in what critics say is an effort to stifle opposition of all stripes.

Of 102 municipalities in the Kurdish-majority southeast of the country, 97 of them have had their elected leaders removed and are now led by administrators appointed by central government. Dozens of mayors were arrested and many of them remain in custody during lengthy pre-trial detention. 

But with fresh local elections in March, voters could again select new HDP candidates to lead the municipalities in the mainly Kurdish southeast. However, Erdoğan last week warned the government could replace newly elected mayors as well.

“Local elections are approaching. If those who have been contaminated by terrorism are elected again, we will immediately appoint an administrator,” the president said at an inauguration ceremony in central Turkey.

Kurdish politicians reacted angrily.

“Above all, by questioning our legitimacy with this speech, Erdoğan is demonstrating that he is not a legitimate leader,” said Meral Danış Beştaş, one of 67 HDP members of parliament elected in June. 

“Unelected appointees have been running the Kurdish provinces for a long time. This is a total hijacking of the will of the people. No regime that calls itself democratic can allow the will of the people to go unrecognised. This statement is a complete rejection of democracy,” she said.

Since winning presidential elections held on the same day as the parliamentary polls in June, Erdoğan has taken on sweeping new powers as part of a new executive presidency that also reduces the oversight role of parliament. Critics say the president has subverted democracy and is turning Turkey into an autocratic state.

While the leftist HDP nearly always comes top in elections in the Kurdish southeast, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) usually comes second, attracting conservative Kurdish voters and those loyal to tribes that have sided with the state against the PKK in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands since 1984.

“With these statements, they have made people afraid to vote for the HDP, they are trying to win the race through threats,” said Beştaş. 


It was not up to the president to decide who was contaminated by terrorism, Beştaş said.

“This is not within the authority of the ruling party nor of any party. His own criteria are not those we have agreed to, nor those the local community, nor the international community have agreed to,” she said. “We’re talking about someone who sees everyone except himself as a terrorist.”

Beştaş said the HDP, the third biggest party in parliament, had never submitted to threats and would continue its struggle by democratic means. 

“We’re not the ones resorting to subterfuge, rubbish, blackmail and threats, he is. We’re as much a political party as they are, but we don’t use the methods they do. We don’t do politics with false economic promises, threats, dismissals of workers, or using extra-legal measures. We use the legitimacy of the constitution,” she said.

“Their real fear, just like in previous elections, is that we will win in these local elections. They’re making every effort to prevent this. We didn’t give into their threats yesterday and we won’t give in to them today.”

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