Incidents after Erdogan’s government annuls the election of an opposition mayor

The ruling was “unacceptable,” wrote Istanbul’s re-elected mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, considered a likely presidential candidate.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo courtesy:

Election officials in Turkey invalidated the election of a pro-Kurdish candidate for mayor in the eastern city of Van, his party said on Tuesday, sparking protests and clashes with the police as opposition politicians criticized the move.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse a demonstration in Van, where the DEM party said their candidate in Sunday’s municipal elections was declared ineligible at the last minute. Demonstrations also took place in the economic center of Istanbul.

The ruling was “unacceptable,” wrote Istanbul’s re-elected mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, considered a likely presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, on X (formerly Twitter). He urged the government and the electoral commission to “respect the will of the people.”

During Sunday’s nationwide municipal elections, Abdullah Zeydan of the DEM obtained over 55% of the votes in Van, located on Lake Van, about 80 kilometers from Turkey’s eastern border with Iran.

His exclusion cleared the way for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to win the mayoralty with only 27% of the votes, the DEM added in a statement.

The DEM said that just two days before the vote, the Ministry of Justice had revoked a court decision restoring Zeydan’s right to run in the elections.

Zeydan had been elected as a parliamentarian for the HDP (now DEM) in 2015 but was arrested in 2016 along with a dozen other lawmakers after criticizing the Turkish army’s airstrikes against illegal Kurdish militants in the southeast.

Speaking to reporters during a demonstration outside the Supreme Electoral Board in the capital, Ankara, DEM co-chair Tuncer Bakirhan said Van had suffered a “political coup.”

The region’s residents reject the mayors imposed on them due to the exclusion of the candidates who won the elections, he stated.

“This is not the way to respect the will of the people,” as Erdogan had promised to do on election night, said Selahattin Demirtas, former leader of the DEM, in a statement from prison, where he has been detained since 2016 on terrorism charges.

“We call on all our people, especially the people of Van, and all pro-democratic forces and political parties to oppose this illegality,” he added in the statement communicated through his lawyers.

Zeydan can appeal the decision that sparked protests in the province of Van, where around 1.1 million people live.

Television footage showed hundreds of protesters gathered outside the DEM headquarters in Van in a show of solidarity.

“Abdullah Zeydan is our honor,” they chanted. “Government-appointed trustees cannot deter us.”

Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protest.

About 150 people also demonstrated in the Asian part of Istanbul to protest the decision of the regional electoral commission, holding banners that read: “No to government trustees” and “Don’t tamper with the will of the Kurdish people,” according to an AFP photographer present at the scene.

AKP spokesman Omer Celik said the matter was at the discretion of the regional electoral commission, not the Ankara government.

“If (the party) wants to appeal the decision, the mechanisms for that are clear,” he told reporters after the party’s central executive committee meeting.

Celik also criticized the clashes in Van between the police and protesters, who, he said, threw stones at the officers.

“Democratic protest is everyone’s right. There is no place to turn it into a violent incident or attack the police,” he stated.

Ozgur Ozel, leader of the opposition CHP party, whose candidates won Istanbul and Ankara as well as interior Anatolian cities in Sunday’s vote, backed the DEM and called the annulment of Zeydan’s victory a “shame.”

The DEM, accused by authorities of having links to illegal Kurdish militants, took control of mayoralties in major cities in southeastern Turkey, predominantly Kurdish, including the region’s largest city, Diyarbakir, during Sunday’s municipal vote.

Following the 2019 elections, 52 mayors elected in the southeast by the HDP (now DEM) were stripped of their positions and replaced by state-appointed trustees over alleged links to Kurdish militants.

This came after a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan’s government, which led to a massive crackdown on opponents of all kinds.

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