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Outrage erupts over election board’s denial of pro-Kurdish mayoral candidate’s win

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The provincial election authority’s move to reverse the victory a pro-Kurdish candidate who won the mayor’s race in Turkey’s eastern Van province, opening the way for the candidate from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to assume office, has drawn condemnation from opposition parties, causing people in Van to take to the streets in protest.

The mandate was given on Tuesday to Abdullah Arvas, the runner-up from the AKP who received only 27.15 percent of the vote, instead of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party’s (DEM Party) Abdullah Zeydan, who won the race in Van with 55.48 percent.

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.

The decision came after the DEM Party announced on Tuesday that a court revoked Zeydan’s right to stand for election two days before the March 31 local polls upon an objection filed by the Justice Ministry just five minutes before the end of office hours on the last Friday before the election.

The developments follow Zeydan completing all legal procedures and applying to Turkey’s election authority, the Supreme Election Board (YSK), which approved his candidacy for the March 31 polls.

He had been elected to parliament on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) (the predecessor to DEM) ticket in 2015 and arrested in 2016 with a dozen other deputies after criticizing the Turkish army’s aerial bombardment of outlawed Kurdish militants in the southeast.

The election authority’s move to deny Zeydan the mandate he won drew strong reactions from opposition parties in addition to triggering protests in Van.

The DEM Party Central Executive Board described the election authority’s move to give the mandate to the AKP’s Arvas as “a coup by the AKP government” in a written statement released on X, calling on all supporters of democratic principles to “condemn this course of action.”

 

Zeydan’s lawyer, Mahsuni Karaman, said such a situation was “unprecedented” in the history of the Turkish Republic. The lawyer added that a legal process will be initiated against the decision, which he said has has “no basis in law.”

Former Diyarbakır Bar Association head Mehmet Emin Aktar said the court’s decision on March 29 to revoke Zeydan’s right to run for election is “arbitrary” and cannot be implemented since the option for appeal remains open.

Özgür Özel, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), whose candidates won Istanbul and Ankara as well as inner Anatolian cities in Sunday’s vote, backed the DEM Party, calling the overturning of Zeydan’s victory a “disgrace.”

Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, who secured his third victory in İstanbul on Sunday, said that not awarding the mandate to the elected DEM Party candidate is “unacceptable” and disregards the will of the people of Van.

“We must collectively protest against the overshadowing of elections by politically motivated judicial decisions and take a stand in favor of democracy,” he added in a tweet.

“First, you say, ‘There’s no legal obstacle for you to run in the election,’ then, when you you’re slapped by the people at the ballot box, you seize the municipality you lost, like the mafia… Enough of your arrogance, your insolence!” Erkan Baş, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP), said in a tweet, addressing the government.

Baş stated that he and a party delegation would be in Van on Wednesday, calling on all citizens and opposition members to stand up and support the DEM Party voters’ will.

Temel Karamollaoğlu, leader of the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), said on X that there is an “inconsistency” in the ruling AKP government’s understanding of democracy and justice.

“To have the judiciary label an elected mayor as ‘politically banned’ through a manipulation carried out just two days before the election is to disregard the national will,” Karamollaoğlu added.

Television footage showed hundreds of protesters gathered outside the DEM Party’s Van headquarters 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 break up the protest.

AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik 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.

The DEM Party, accused by the authorities of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, on Sunday won large towns in the Kurdish-majority southeast, including the region’s largest city Diyarbakir.

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

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