Pro-Kurdish party challenges election outcomes in eastern Turkey


  • World
  • Tuesday, 02 Apr 2024

Tuncer Bakirhan, co-chair of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM Party), speaks during a rally to celebrate Nowruz, which marks the arrival of spring, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 17, 2024. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/ File photo

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's pro-Kurdish DEM Party called on Tuesday for authorities to reverse a block on one of its mayors taking office after local elections, and said it was challenging other results over what it called "illegal voters" that prevented it winning.

The challenges by DEM - parliament's third largest party, which performed well in the mainly Kurdish southeast - mark the biggest dispute over the results of Sunday's nationwide local vote in which President Tayyip Erdogan's party was trounced.

Abdullah Zeydan, DEM candidate in the city of Van, won 55.5% of votes versus 27.2% for the candidate from Erdogan's AK Party (AKP).

However, DEM said the justice ministry had sent a letter five minutes before offices closed on Friday last week, two days before the vote, objecting to Zeydan's candidacy, and a court had then ruled that he did not have the right to stand.

A document by the Van election board, seen by Reuters, showed that the AKP second-place finisher would instead be handed the mandate to be mayor.

The ministry referred questions on the issue to the country's High Election Board, which referred the issue to the election board office in Van, where nobody could be immediately contacted for comment.

"This wrong decision must be reversed immediately. This initiative, which disregards the will of the people of Van, is illegal," DEM said in a statement, adding that it had not been given the right to challenge the ruling.

The Turkish state has cracked down on the pro-Kurdish political movement since the 2015 collapse of a peace process to end a decades-old insurgency, accusing it of ties to Kurdish militants.

The movement denies the accusations. But it has been ravaged by thousands of arrests and its mayors were ousted after previous elections, to be replaced by state officials.

Last year DEM was formed to succeed a party facing potential closure in a trial over such alleged links.

CHALLENGES ELSEWHERE IN EAST

Separately, DEM co-chair Tuncer Bakirhan said on X that 6,541 "illegal voters" had been used to prevent the party winning the vote in Sirnak province. He did not specify what he meant by illegal voters.

He alluded to a video widely shared on social media in which a man in a Kurdish headscarf approaches several young men heading to vote and demanding to know where they are from.

The AKP candidate won in Sirnak with 47.6%, or 18,033 votes, ahead of the DEM candidate on 41%, or 15,553 votes.

The justice ministry also referred a query about DEM's Sirnak claims to local election authorities, who were not immediately available. In general, election authorities make no public comment about such allegations.

Bakirhan also said DEM launched legal challenges to election results in the eastern provinces of Bitlis and Kars where he also claimed illegal voters were identified. DEM finished second in both provinces.

"We call on the democratic public and the opposition to protect the will of the people, which is being usurped by illegal voters," he said.

The government frequently accuses the pro-Kurdish party of links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, which launched an insurgency in 1984 in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. Turkey, the United States and the European Union designate it as a terrorist group.

(Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Angus MacSwan)

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