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Turkey’s election board reverses decision to block pro-Kurdish party's local win

Turkey’s high election board will unblock the pro-Kurdish party candidate’s election win amid protests in the country's Kurdish majority southeast.
Protesters demonstrate on Kibris Sehitleri Avenue in Izmir against the denial of Abdullah Zeydan's right to be elected and the handover of the mandate to AKP candidate Abdulahat Arvas, April 2, 2024.

ANKARA — Turkey’s High Election Board on Wednesday reversed its local branch's decision to annul the landslide victory by the pro-Kurdish DEM Party’s local candidate in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast as protests in the country turned into celebrations.

The local electoral authorities in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish province of Van, home to roughly 1.3 million people, had originally invalidated DEM candidate Abdullah Zeydan’s win of the metropolitan mayorship in Sunday’s local polls, citing an eleventh-hour court order depriving him from his right to be elected. The local election board gave the mandate to the runner-up, Abdulahat Avras, who won just 27.15% of the vote. Avras was running on the list of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The decision to annul the win had sparked anger and overnight protests across the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast.

The DEM Party formally appealed the decision with the High Election Board (YSK) on Wednesday.

Later on Wednesday, YSK judges decided in favor of the DEM Party’s appeal, Turkey’s Haberturk television reported, citing YSK sources.

The decision was also confirmed by the DEM Party. “The YSK accepted our appeal by majority vote, annulling the decision of the provincial election board. It decided to give the mandate to Zeydan,” Rustu Tiryaki, a party official, told Turkish media in front of the YSK’s headquarters.

Thousands gathered outside the DEM Party’s headquarters in Van to celebrate the decision, cheering enthusiastically in a video shared by the party on social media.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya had announced on Wednesday at midnight that 89 people, including 26 in Van, were detained on a series of charges including “spreading terrorist propaganda.”

Though the governor’s office in Van banned public demonstrations for 15 days as well as the entry of large groups to the province, tens of thousands took to the streets Wednesday morning to express their anger at the annulment. Police used pepper spray and water cannons to disperse the crowd. According to the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, at least 11 people, including three journalists who were covering the protests in the region, were injured as the security forces responded.

Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders, condemned the targeting of journalists as “unacceptable.”

“If there is one right that cannot be questioned, it is their right to inform the public,” he wrote on the social media platform X.

Tuesday’s decision by Van’s electoral board was widely criticized by local and international civic groups. Many deemed the move as a fresh attempt by the government to replace elected officials from the pro-Kurdish party with government-appointed trustees, citing thinly supported terrorism charges.

Dozens of mayoral offices held by the DEM Party’s predecessors in Turkey’s southeast, including in Van, were governed by state-appointed trustees ahead of the Sunday’s local polls. Turkish authorities accuse the party of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging an armed campaign for Kurdish-self rule inside Turkey since 1984. The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.

The nationwide local elections dealt a historical blow to Erdogan’s ruling party. For the first time since its inception in 2001, the AKP has emerged second from the voting.

This developing story has been updated since initial publication.