Clashes after Turkey annuls pro-Kurdish mayoral candidate's win

Clashes after Turkey annuls pro-Kurdish mayoral candidate's win
Turkish officials have overturned the victory of a pro-Kurdish candidate who won 55 percent of the vote in the eastern city of Van, leading to protests
4 min read
Protesters clashed with police in Van [Getty]

Turkey's election officials have overturned the election of a pro-Kurdish mayoral candidate in the eastern city of Van, his party said on Tuesday, triggering protests and clashes with police as opposition politicians criticised the move.

Police used tear gas and water cannon to break up a demonstration in Van, where the DEM party said its candidate in Sunday's municipal elections was ruled ineligible at the last minute. Demonstrations were also held in economic hub Istanbul.

The ruling was "unacceptable", Istanbul's re-elected mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, seen as a likely presidential candidate in the next election, posted on X (formerly Twitter).

He called on the government and electoral commission to "respect the people's will".

During nationwide municipal elections Sunday, DEM's Abdullah Zeydan had garnered over 55 percent of the vote in Van, which lies on Lake Van around 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Turkey's eastern border with Iran.

His exclusion left the way clear for the candidate from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to take the mayorship with just 27 percent of the vote, DEM added in a statement.

DEM said that just two days before the vote, the justice ministry had reversed a court decision that restored Zeydan's right to stand for election.

Zeydan had been elected to parliament on the HDP (now DEM) ticket in 2015, but arrested in 2016 with a dozen other deputies after criticising the Turkish army's aerial bombardments of outlawed Kurdish militants in the southeast.

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'Political coup'

Speaking to reporters during a rally outside the Supreme Election Board in the capital Ankara DEM co-chair Tuncer Bakirhan told reporters that Van had suffered a "political coup".

Residents of the region reject mayors imposed on them by the exclusion of candidates who won the vote, he said.

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

"We call on all our people, especially the people of Van, and all pro-democracy forces and political parties to stand against this unlawfulness," he added in the text communicated via his lawyers.

Zeydan can appeal the decision that sparked protests in Van province, home to around 1.1 million people.

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

"Abdullah Zeydan is our honour," they chanted. "Government-appointed trustees cannot deter us."

Police fired tear gas and water cannon to break up the protest.

Some 150 people also rallied on the Asian side of Istanbul to protest the regional electoral commission's decision, unfurling banners reading: "No to government trustees" and "Don't touch the will of Kurdish people", according to an AFP photographer on the scene.

Pro-Kurdish sweep

AKP spokesman Omer Celik said the issue was at the discretion of the regional election commission, not the government in Ankara.

"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 criticised the scuffles in Van between the police and protesters, who he claimed hurled stones at the officers.

"Democratic protest is everyone's right. There is no place for turning it into a violent incident or attacking the police," he said.

Ozgur Ozel, leader of the opposition CHP Party whose candidates won Istanbul and Ankara as well as inner Anatolian cities in Sunday's vote, backed DEM, calling the overturning of Zeydan's victory a "disgrace".

DEM - accused by authorities of links to outlawed Kurdish militants - during Sunday's municipal vote captured control of mayorships of large towns in Turkey's Kurdish-majority southeast, including the region's largest city Diyarbakir.

Following the 2019 elections, 52 mayors elected in the southeast on the HDP (now DEM) ticket were stripped of office and replaced by state-appointed administrators for alleged ties to Kurdish militants.

That followed a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan's government, which prompted a massive crackdown on opponents of all stripes.