Venice Commission to Turkish gov’t: Reinstate mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van

Legal experts from the Council of Europe’s (CoE) Venice Commission have called on the Turkish government to repeal decisions that have undermined democratic self-government in the country’s Southeast, according to a press statement released on June 19.

The opinion, prepared at the request of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the CoE, concerns the April 11, 2019 decision of Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) and the August 19, 2019 decision of the Ministry of Interior to replace elected candidates and mayors.

In the local elections of March 31, 2019 the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) won 65 municipalities in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions. But due to the decisions of the YSK and the Ministry of Interior, only 12 remain in office.

The YSK did not allow six of the elected mayors to assume their official duties because they were former public servants fired by government decrees during a state of emergency declared after a July 15, 2016 coup attempt, despite the fact that their candidacies had been validated by the YSK prior to the election. Candidates who came in second in the polls were appointed in their place.

The Ministry of Interior has removed the mayors of some 45 HDP-run municipalities due to terrorism-related charges based on legal amendments introduced by emergency decree-law and has appointed trustees to replace them. The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accuses the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an accusation denied by the party.

In its opinion the Venice Commission found the YSK decisions to be inconsistent with international norms and standards and called for their reversal. The commission underlined that “[i]t is crucial for the proper functioning of democracy that the candidates who received the highest number of votes are deemed elected, and not second-placed candidates from other political parties.”

Similarly, the commission also called for the repeal of the Ministry of Interior’s decisions to replace elected mayors with government officials because “[they] undermine the very nature of local self-government.”

The Venice Commission noted that both the YSK and the Ministry of Interior’s decisions were based on state of emergency legislation and voiced their concern that “based on the framework of the emergency regime, changes of a structural nature to the system of local government … have been introduced on a permanent basis.”

The European Commission for Democracy through Law – generally referred to as the Venice Commission — is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters. The role of the Venice Commission is to provide legal advice to member states in the areas of democratic institutions and fundamental rights, constitutional justice and ordinary justice, elections, referendums and political parties.

The Venice Commission’s opinion included the following recommendations:

“A.    Make it clear in the law that ineligibility of an election candidate on the grounds of prohibition from public service requires a final criminal conviction by a court for a serious offence as well as an express decision on the candidate’s ineligibility prior to the elections.

“B.    Recognise as elected the six mayoral candidates who had received the highest number of votes during the local elections of 31 March 2019 in the district municipalities of Diyarbakır, Erzurum, Kars and Van but had been denied the mayoral mandate by decision of the Supreme Election Council of 11 April 2019.

“C.    Reinstate the mayors of the three metropolitan cities Diyarbakır, Mardin, and Van who had been suspended by decision of the Ministry of the Interior of 19 August 2019; or implement an alternative solution which respects the will of the voters, such as allowing the respective municipal councils to choose a replacement mayor or providing for repeat elections in the electoral zones concerned.

“D.    Repeal the amendments to Article 45, paragraph 1 of the Municipality Law which had first been introduced by Decree Law No. 674 and had been approved by Parliament in November 2016.”

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