Debate over Istanbul rallies before election roils Turkish politics

Debate over Istanbul rallies before election roils Turkish politics

Debate over Istanbul rallies before election roils Turkish politics Istanbul is bracing for two major rallies on the European side of the city on May 30, with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) planning to rally in Kazlıçeşme Square after winning a lottery for the area over the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The prime minister and the president, however, will attend a rally on the same day in Istanbul to celebrate the 562nd anniversary of Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottomans in Yenikapı Square, a few kilometers away.

Both the HDP and the AKP applied to hold an election rally in Kazlıçeşme Square on May 30. The Zeytinburnu District Election Board said yesterday that the HDP had won the lottery between the two parties for the area. 

Neverthelss, AKP leader and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will be attending a rally in nearby Yenikapı Sqaure on the same day. 

The controversy over the two rallies on the same day was stirred when the Istanbul Governor’s Office said on May 26 that the HDP would not be permitted to hold the election rally on May 30 at Kazlıçeşme Square, after the party had sought official permission.

Later on May 27, HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said on Twitter that the dispute with the governor’s office over the rally at Kazlıçeşme had been resolved and that the rally would be held on May 30 at 3 p.m. as planned.

Demirtaş told private broadcaster CNN Türk late on May 27 that they decided to hold their rally at 3 p.m., an hour earlier than planned, in order to avoid a potential confrontation between HDP supporters and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters, who will be attending celebrations in Yenikapı on the same day.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu are expected to attend the anniversary celebrations in Yenikapı on May 30.

Demirtaş has accused the Istanbul Governor’s Office of risking provocations between AKP supporters and HDP supporters by holding the Istanbul conquest celebrations on the same day as the planned HDP rally. The event has usually been marked on May 29.

The Istanbul Governor’s Office said in a written statement on May 27 that it was not authorized, according to Turkish election law, to allow or forbid any form of open-air rallies in the final 10 days before the elections, adding that the authorization could only be issued by District Election Boards.

The Zeytinburnu District Election Board, however, said later on May 27 that it had sent the HDP a written statement on May 20 about the party’s request to hold an election rally on May 30 at Kazlıçeşme Square, Anadolu Agency reported.

“Kazlıçeşme Square has been excluded from ‘places available for rallies’ and no political party can hold an election rally there,” the statement said.

The rejection came as a surprise, since Erdoğan has repeatedly suggested the use of Kazlıçeşme Square in place of Taksim Square for May Day celebrations, calling it a “convenient location.”

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) previously requested a formal permit to hold an election rally on May 31 at Yenikapı Square and was rejected, as it was told that the Istanbul conquest celebrations would be held a day earlier and that they would not have enough time to prepare for the rally. The MHP then put in another request to hold its rally at Kazlıçeşme Square, but this request was also rejected, with the District Election Board saying the square was unavailable. 

The MHP recently stated that it will hold a rally at Kazlıçeşme Square on May 31 at 4 p.m., despite the board’s rejection.