Turkey’s election authority reinstates pro-Kurdish mayoral election winner

Election authority reverses ejection of Kurdish winner of mayoral race in city of Van in eastern Turkey.

Supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party) take part in a demonstration after the party's candidate in Sunday's municipal elections was ruled ineligible at the last minute in the eastern city of Van, in Istanbul on April 2, 2024 [Yasin Akgul/AFP]

Turkey’s election authority has reinstated a pro-Kurdish mayoral election winner in the eastern city of Van after the annulment of his victory provoked clashes.

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) announced on Wednesday that it has overturned a decision by the regional election commission in eastern Turkey to remove Abdullah Zeydan, the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (DEM).

The reversal is viewed as another boost for the Turkish opposition following Sunday’s local elections, which dealt a blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party (AKP), after their wins last year in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Zeydan had garnered more than 55 percent of the vote in the municipal elections on Sunday, but the regional electoral commission claimed he was ineligible to stand due to a previous conviction, and handed the mayoral seat to a candidate from AKP who had won 27 percent of the vote.

Zeydan had been arrested and jailed in 2016 after criticising the Turkish army’s air campaign against outlawed Kurdish fighters in the Kurdish-majority southeast. He was released in 2022.

The removal provoked violent protests on Tuesday that lasted throughout the night across the province, which lies on Turkey’s eastern border with Iran.

The authorities cracked down. Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said 89 people were detained, for joining unauthorised rallies and chanting slogans in praise of a “separatist terror organisation”, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been blacklisted by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

DEM has often been accused by the Turkish authorities of links to the PKK. The movement is the third-largest party in Turkey’s national parliament.

However, on Wednesday, DEM said the YSK had decided to reinstate Zeydan as the mayor of Van as “a result of the resistance of the Kurdish people”.

The YSK considered an appeal by DEM and ruled to reinstate Zeydan, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The decision was taken by a majority of the board’s members, the agency said.

Over the years, Erdogan’s government has removed elected pro-Kurdish mayors from office for alleged links to Kurdish fighters and replaced them with state-appointed trustees.

Besides the victory in Van, DEM also claimed the mayorships of other large towns in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast, including Diyarbakir, the region’s largest city.

Before the election board’s decision to reinstate Zeydan, Istanbul’s re-elected mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, seen as a likely rival to Erdogan, called the events in Van a “total aberration”.

“We will be following this meaningless practise of double standards from Van,” Imamoglu, whose party backed the DEM in its battle against the Van ruling, told a crowd of about 500 supporters gathered outside Istanbul’s main court after he was officially given a mandate to serve five more years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies