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Kurdish mayor denied mandate despite winning landslide victory in eastern Turkey

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A Kurdish politician who won the local election in Turkey’s eastern province of Van with a landslide victory on Sunday has been denied the mandate to serve as the city’s mayor due to a last-minute political ban imposed on him, while the runner-up from the ruling party has been recognized as the city’s new mayor by the election authority.

The mandate to serve as mayor of Van was given to Abdullah Arvas on Tuesday, the runner-up from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), instead of Abdullah Zeydan, the candidate from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), who won the election.

The DEM Party called the move a “coup by the AKP government” in a statement on X on Tuesday while calling on people to show solidarity with the party.

Zeydan won 55.4 percent of the vote in the city, while Arvas garnered only 27.1 percent in Sunday’s local elections.

March 31 election results in Van

According to Turkish media reports, the provincial election authority in Van concluded following a review conducted at Arvas’s request that Zeydan did not meet the eligibility criteria for the mayoral candidacy and awarded the mandate to the AKP’s Arvas.

The decision comes after the DEM Party on Tuesday announced that a court revoked Zeydan’s right to run for election two days before the March 31 local polls, in a move seen by many as disregarding the will of the people in Van.

Zeydan completed all legal procedures and applied to Turkey’s election authority, the Supreme Election Board (YSK), which approved his candidacy, according to a statement by the party.

The party said that despite his candidacy being approved, the Diyarbakır 5th High Criminal Court revoked Zeydan’s right to run for election upon an objection filed by the Justice Ministry just five minutes before the end of office hours on March 29, the last weekday before the election.

In 2022 the same court restored certain rights to Zeydan, such as the right to vote and be elected and to exercise other political rights. These rights, as outlined in Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code, are typically withheld from individuals sentenced to imprisonment for intentional offenses until they have served their sentence.

The DEM Party further stated that the court denied the politician’s request to have his rights restored on the same day of their revocation. Moreover, it immediately notified the YSK of its decision before it became final, thus pre-empting the right to appeal and lodge an objection.

“Abdullah Zeydan is the co-mayor of the Van Metropolitan Municipality by the will of the people. We invite everyone to respect this truth,” DEM added in its statement, underlining that the court’s decision was “unlawful” and disregarded the will of the people of Van.

DEM Party co-chair Tuncer Bakırhan also said the court’s decision on Zeydan was “an attack on democratic life.”

“If the will of the people of Van is not protected today, tomorrow the will of another city will be disregarded. For democracy, law and justice, everyone should defend the will of the people of Van and … stand against this political trap and ambush,” he added.

Then a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the predecessor of the DEM Party, Zeydan was detained on terrorism charges in November 2016 along with several other HDP deputies, including the party’s then-co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş.

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals overturned Zeydan’s initial conviction in May 2021, citing a violation of the Kurdish politician’s right to a defense. In the retrial, the prosecution demanded the same eight-year sentence.

While the court upheld the conviction, including more than three years on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda and five years for aiding and abetting, it also ruled for Zeydan’s release due to time served.

In the local elections of March 31, 2019, the HDP won 65 municipalities in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions. But due to the decisions of the YSK in six cases and the Interior Ministry, nearly 50 mayors were removed from office or not allowed to assume office. The Turkish government has systematically appointed trustees to replace democratically elected mayors in the country’s Kurdish-majority regions.

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