Local polls will test Erdoğan’s policies in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast

The Turkish local elections on March 31 will test whether people living in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast approve Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s policy of replacing elected mayors with government-appointed administers. 

Since peace talks in Turkey Erdoğan launched to solve the country’s more than three-decade long Kurdish conflict collapsed in 2015, the Turkish government has ousted 95 mayors of the predominantly Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and appointed government-approved mayors.

As a result of the government’s crackdown against the opposition, which escalated following a failed coup attempt in 2016, hundreds of HDP officials have also been arrested, including the party's former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş.

During his election campaign, Erdoğan has repeatedly said that he could replace the mayors to be elected on Sunday again, in case they are linked to terrorist organisations, while portraying HDP as the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). 

The HDP is looking forward to take back the municipalities in southeastern provinces and districts on Sunday, yet some voters are happy with the performances of government-appointed mayors known as “kayyum”, Al Jazeera reported on Saturday. 

"The kayyum has worked very hard here," Al Jazeera quoted a businessman from the southeastern province of Van as saying. "There has been a visible improvement in services - cultural activities, roads, social activities, all kinds of things. Before, the HDP provided no services to us."

According to the businessman, what the former HDP municipality did with financial resources is uncertain."They brought people and companies in from other cities to do work we were capable of doing ourselves. Were they passing on funds to the terrorists? We don't know but it seems likely,” he said. 

According to Akif Gür, the party's branch chairman in Batman province, the appointed mayor has succeeded what the former mayors could not. ”Services such as street-cleaning, parks and social centres have all seen major improvements. We built a new cultural centre in Batman,” he said. 

Gür said that the new mayor had also improved election security. "Especially in the 1990s, there was a lot of pressure on people to manipulate their votes. Now they're free to vote how they want,” he said

Yet, according to some others, appointed mayors have overseen backtracking on Kurdish cultural and linguistic projects, Al Jazeera said. 

"They haven't created new projects, just completed the ones the HDP municipality was doing already.” said Deniz Tüzün, an actor whose municipal theatre group was closed by the appointed mayor.