Dismissal of three mayors will toughen political climate in Turkey

Dismissal of three mayors will toughen political climate in Turkey

Three things have happened in the wake of the local elections on March 31, when the opposition bloc won Turkey’s largest metropolises, including Istanbul and Ankara, along with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) victory in southeastern Anatolia.

First, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) decided to annul the electoral certificates of seven HDP mayors because those who were dismissed with emergency decrees should not be employed in public service and work in public institutions, although having won polls. More controversially, instead of renewing polls, the mandates to run these seven constituencies were granted to the runners-up — all from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The second move was concerning the Istanbul polls. Ekrem İmamoğlu’s narrow win against the AKP’s Binali Yıldırım in the Istanbul election on March 31 was canceled by the YSK on some controversial claims. The re-run resulted in a major victory for İmamoğlu, who managed to increase his votes by around 10 percentage points in less than two months.

The third move came early Aug. 19. The Interior Ministry announced that it removed the mayors of the provinces of Diyarbakır, Mardin, and Van from office because they had alleged links with a terrorist organization. All three mayors from the HDP who have received more than 50 percent of votes in the elections are now being replaced by the governors of these three cities.

Government officials have justified the move by arguing that these mayors have already started to turn their offices into centers for terrorism and to use the municipal resources to fund and support terrorists.

Critics of the government, however, recall that these mayors were not convicted of any crime and that they could run in the polls after being cleared by the YSK. They also say that removing an elected mayor from office is an undemocratic action and means the denial of the people’s will.

Apart from the HDP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), AKP dissidents former President Abdullah Gül and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also slammed the government for disrespecting the people’s vote.

As expected, AKP officials fired back at the opposition bloc by accusing them of siding with terrorists. This move will surely escalate the political tension between the ruling and opposition blocs and will bring about a tougher process ahead.

Equally important, the dismissal of three mayors will have a deeper impact on Turkey’s relationship with the European Union and its status in the Council of Europe. Both institutions have expressed concerns over the Turkish government’s move. Efforts to re-inject hope and optimism in Turkey’s bonds with the Western bodies have thus faded away following this undemocratic move.

The local elections Turkey held on March 31 were the first polls conducted under the executive-presidential system and therefore were regarded as a litmus test for the sustainability of this new rule. For the reasons cited above, it was unfortunate to observe that the new governance system has failed to introduce a more democratic rule that respects the will of the people of Turkey.