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European politicians condemn overturning of Kurdish mayor’s election victory

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A regional election commission’s decision to deny a newly elected Kurdish mayor the mandate to assume office in the eastern province of Van has attracted condemnation from European politicians for being undemocratic and for hijacking the will of the people.

Although Abdullah Zeydan, the candidate from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), won the election in Van in a landslide, the mandate was given to Abdullah Arvas, the runner-up from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), by the regional electoral commission on Tuesday.

The commission’s controversial decision was based on a last-minute court decision that deprived Zeydan of the right to stand for election although he had been previously found eligible to run in the election and submitted the necessary paperwork to the country’s election authority.

Nacho Sanchez Amor, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, said on X that the mayorship of Van was granted to the losing AKP candidate “due to a last-minute judicial maneuver” and despite previous checks by the country’s Supreme Election Board (YSK). He said the clear will expressed by the people should not be usurped again anywhere, in an implicit reference to the ousting of dozens of Kurdish democratically elected mayors following the local elections of 2019 by the Turkish government on accusations that they had links to terrorism.

Ann Linde, the foreign minister of Sweden, said on X that the DEM Party’s elected mayor for the Van Metropolitan Municipality was stopped by the election board. She said the people’s will expressed in the election should be respected.

Nikolaj Villumsen, a member of the European Parliament, lamented that even before two days had passed since the local elections, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan started to violate the will of the people.

“That is totally unacceptable! The democratic choice of the people of #Van must be respected. Solidarity with @DEMGenelMerkezi,” he tweeted, tagging the X account of the DEM Party.

In a speech after the elections on Sunday, when Erdoğan’s AKP suffered the worst defeat since its establishment in 2001, Erdoğan looked calm and said the will of the people would be respected, adding that his party would take a lesson from its declining public support.

The Social Democratic Party of Switzerland also issued a statement on X condemning the withdrawal of the mayorship of the legitimately elected Zeydan, saying that denying him the mandate to serve as the mayor of Van runs counter to basic democratic values. The party also expressed solidarity with the DEM Party.

Thijs Reuten, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, described the withdrawal of Zeydan’s mandate as a “typical autocratic move by Erdogan” in attempting to secure power after losing at the ballot box and “completely unacceptable.” He said Zeydan and all other elected politicians should be installed in their positions immediately.

There was criticism from Austria as well. Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic, a member of the Austrian Parliament and spokesperson for foreign affairs, said on X that despite resorting to tricks, Erdoğan and his AKP lost the elections in Turkey. She said it is President Erdoğan’s duty to accept the results of the elections and called scenes showing police officers attacking protestors in Van and elsewhere “unacceptable.”

The election authority’s refusal to allow Zeydan to serve as Van’s mayor although he received more than 55 percent of the vote against his AKP rival, who garnered only 27 percent, led to outrage and protests in the country’s predominantly southeast region.

Some of Turkey’s opposition parties, which were criticized in the past for remaining silent in the wake of the ousting of democratically elected Kurdish mayors by the government, were more vocal in their criticism this time and called for the government to retreat from its mistake of usurping the people’s will.

Zeydan, who had been elected on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) (now DEM) ticket in 2015, was arrested in 2016 after criticizing the Turkish army’s air campaign against outlawed Kurdish militants in the Kurdish-majority southeast.

Violent protests against his ouster lasted throughout the night in Van province, which sits on Turkey’s eastern border with Iran.

The local governor’s office banned all demonstrations for 15 days after violence spread to several cities in the region, with some protesters setting police barricades ablaze.

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