Turkish election board delays new Kurdish mayors taking office

Most newly elected provincial and district mayors belonging to Turkey’s pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are still waiting for the Supreme Electoral Board to certify their election so they can take up their posts some 10 days after the polls.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered a major blow in local elections, after losing mayoral races in four of the five most populous provinces in Turkey, including Istanbul, the financial hub, and Ankara, the capital city.

While attention is focused on Istanbul, where the AKP has called for a recount and cancellation of election to prevent the opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu taking up office, 48 of the 70 freshly elected HDP mayors in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey have also yet to receive election certificates. 

After the collapse of a peace process to solve the three-decade long Kurdish conflict in 2015, the government replaced previously elected HDP mayors with appointed administrators, using emergency powers given to the government following the 2016 failed coup. 

While the AKP won the mayoral races in some southeastern areas such as Şırnak, where the demographics have changed due to the increased presence of security forces, the HDP regained the control of many other municipalities.

Veteran Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk, who won the election in the southeastern province of Mardin with 56 percent of the vote, is among the HDP mayors waiting for authorisation. Türk was also elected mayor of Mardin in 2014, but was later replaced with a government-appointed administrator. 

The AKP’s Mardin organisation asked the provincial electoral board to hand over the certificate of election to its candidate who came second in the vote on the grounds that Türk had previously been removed from office. The provincial electoral board declined the request, saying Türk was not among public servants dismissed by government decree after the 2016 coup.

The Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) is to decide on the AKP appeal.

“That’s impossible to comprehend, it is obvious that they face pressure from the government,” Türk said referring to the YSK. “We won the race in Mardin with some 68,000 votes. There were 20,000 invalid votes, even if all of them were cast in favour of the AKP, the difference would decrease to 48,000. Therefore they are trying to invent new arguments.”

Türk said the intention was to punish Kurdish voters, particularly those in the west of the country who followed HDP advice and voted for other opposition parties to hurt the AKP. 

Pro-Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk, former mayor of Mardin, speaks during a interview with AFP at his home on March 20, 2017. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC
Pro-Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk, former mayor of Mardin, speaks during a interview with AFP at his home on March 20, 2017. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC

“I was elected as a member of the parliament in 1973 and I have always been active in politics. I have never witnessed such a period. There has never been a period that has made elections meaningless, that has destroyed belief in democracy to such an extent,” Türk said.

He also said the electoral boards had overturned appeals for recounts in places where the AKP mayors were elected with very low margins such as three votes, while the AKP tried to apply pressure in places it had lost. 

In some districts where HDP mayors had managed to receive their authorisation to take up office they have reported that real estate belonging to the municipalities has been transferred to the state, including town halls in some cases. Türk said the moment he got his certificate of election, he would apply to courts to overturn the transfer of municipality’s real estate and other equipment to other branches of the central government. 

In the southeastern province of Siirt, the AKP also requested to be declared the winner of the mayoral race, saying that the elected HDP mayor Berivan Helen Işık was sacked from duty via a decree. Serdar Batur, the HDP Siirt provincial head said the argument was baseless and Işık’s contract was terminated under normal procedures and on the grounds that the municipality had an over-supply of employees.  

Last year in parliamentary elections, some candidates such as academic Cihangir Islam from the Islamist Felicity Party were elected as deputies, despite being dismissed from public duty via government decree. The decrees to a large extent targeted members of the Gülen movement, a religious group the Turkish government accuses of masterminding the coup attempt. But the government also sacked Kurdish teachers, mayoral workers, and a number of academics who signed a 2016 petition calling for renewed peace in the Kurdish conflict. 

Zeyyat Ceylan, who won the mayoral race in the Bağlar district of the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, is a former teacher who was dismissed from his job after the coup attempt. The AKP also requested the Supreme Electoral Board not to authorise Ceylan’s election.

“If there were some insufficiencies or problems regarding our vested rights when we submitted our application, the YSK would have intervened and vetoed our candidacy. You know they vetoed some of our friends and they could not run in elections. But there were no legal issues raised about our candidacy in Bağlar and the YSK did not ask us to make modifications,” Ceylan said.

Abubekir Erkmen, who was elected mayor of the Dağpınar district of the eastern province of Kars, also cannot receive his certificate of election after being dismissed from public duty via a decree. “We are waiting, I hope the outcome will not be negative. If they decide otherwise, we will bring the issue to the European Court of Human Rights,” he said. 

Turkish prosecutors launched a terror-related investigation into the new co-mayors of Diyarbakır a few days after the local polls. “Our certificates of election should be given immediately,” Selçuk Mızraklı, one of the co-mayors said. “Prolonging the process will put the YSK under severe suspicion. They tell us that there are appeals and they have been submitted to the YSK. Their approach implied that the decision would be made in Ankara.”

In Mardin’s Nusaybin district the HDP declared victory after receiving 78 percent of the vote, but the elected co-mayors are also awaiting authorisation, as the AKP demanded a recount of 3,054 invalid votes. “We do not object to the right to appeal. But the AKP now in Nusaybin and in Turkey has proved its intention to use the appeals outside their purpose and to prevent the will of the voters,” Semire Nergis, the elected co-mayor of Nusaybin said. 

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