The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (CoE) has adopted a recommendation and resolution on the situation of mayors in Turkey, calling on the Turkish authorities to modify the definition of terrorism in its legislation and to stop the practice of removing mayors –- mostly members of a pro-Kurdish party -– without court decisions, Turkish Minute reported, citing Deutsche Welle Turkish service.
A political and legal assault on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) launched by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s after talks for a truce between Kurdish militants and the government failed in 2015 intensified after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a coup attempt in July 2016 that was followed by a sweeping political crackdown.
As part of its crackdown on the HDP, the AKP government appointed trustees to replace mayors who had been democratically elected in the 2014 local elections. Most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 also have been replaced by trustees.
Wednesday’s report, prepared by rapporteurs Vladimir Prebilic of Slovenia and David Eray of Switzerland, stated a “generally degrading situation in terms of local self-government” in Turkey, with the rapporteurs expressing concerns about the minimal progress in implementing Congress Recommendation 397 (2017) on the situation of local elected representatives in the country.
“The government continues to suspend mayors when a criminal investigation is opened against them, on the grounds of an overly broad definition of ‘terrorism’ in the anti-terror legislation, and to replace them by non-elected officials, thus seriously undermining the democratic choice of Turkish citizens and impeding the proper functioning of local democracy in Turkey,” they said.
The rapporteurs also criticized the provincial electoral administration’s refusal, in violation of the principle of fairness in elections, to grant to several candidates who won the mayoral elections in some municipalities located in the southeast of Turkey the required certificate of election, which is a prerequisite to assuming the position of mayor.
“The governor’s double function as a State agent and a chairman of the provincial executive committee … does not permit the necessary separation between the State and the local administration, contrary to the spirit of the Charter,” they also pointed out.
The HDP on Wednesday said in a tweet that congress acknowledged in the report that the AKP’s actions of replacing and imprisoning HDP co-mayors were “against international law.
In its texts, the congress said it has undertaken the strengthening of its political dialogue with the Turkish national authorities as well as with the national delegation to the Congress and the Union of Municipalities of Turkey (UMT) with the aim of improving the situation of local democracy in the country in light of the provisions of the charter.
It also requested that the Committee of Ministers invite the Turkish authorities to modify the definition of terrorism in the current anti-terror legislation, to stop the current practice of suspending mayors without court decisions, to discontinue the practice of appointing a governmental trustee in municipalities where the mayor has been suspended and to ensure that the candidates who were admitted to run in the elections and won them can effectively enjoy their right to carry out their mandate.
The report follows a three-part monitoring visit in Turkey, with the first two parts taking place in October and November 2019 and another visit in December 2021.
The congress had started a monitoring process for Turkey, which ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 1992, with reservations on 10 provisions of the charter due to violation of some articles.