Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday vowed to once again seize municipalities immediately after upcoming local elections take place should mayoral candidates backed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) emerge from the ballot box victorious.
“Elections are nearing. If those involved with terrorism emerge from the ballot box, we will appoint trustees without delay,” Erdoğan told an audience of mostly Justice and Development Party (AKP) members and bureaucrats in the Turkish capital of Ankara, according to a report by Kurdistan 24.
Local elections in Turkey are set to be held on March 31, 2019. Currently, 94 of 102 municipalities in Kurdish-majority cities and towns are administered by Ankara-appointed trustees as the Erdoğan administration moved in late 2016 to depose, arrest and jail mayors elected in the previous 2014 vote on charges of “terrorism” and collaboration with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
“You cannot continue your rule with threats. You are already worried. Your worry will not change the result,” HDP deputy Meral Danış Beştaş tweeted in response to Erdoğan. “Your wrath stems from the fear in you,” she said in Kurdish.
Laws changed in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016, allowed him to seize the municipalities including the metropolitan areas of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van, each province with a population of over 1 million people. Trustees have dismantled the legacy of their elected predecessors by taking down Kurdish language signboards and shutting down arts centers, theaters and even kindergartens.
The HDP, the main pro-Kurdish party, has a sister party, the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), at the local level. It is not clear yet which party will enter the elections to challenge the AKP candidate, according to Kurdistan 24.
Meanwhile, the BDP’s co-chairs Sebahat Tuncel and Mehmet Aslan remain in jail along with over 60 mayors and eight former lawmakers, including the HDP’s former leader and Erdoğan’s presidential rival in the June 2018 elections, Selahattin Demirtaş.
Another reaction to Erdoğan’s plans to appoint bureaucrats to run Kurdish population centers and depose elected mayors came from opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu.
“It has been announced with this statement that in Turkey there is no such thing as the right to free elections. Criteria for becoming a candidate are clear in the law, and they are approved by the YSK [Supreme Electoral Council],” Tanrıkulu, himself a Kurd and long-time human rights lawyer, said.
“Erdoğan is already declaring that he will not recognize the people’s will even when it emerges from the ballot box,” he added.