The invalidation of the election of a mayor from the pro-Kurdish party in favor of the ruling party in Van, in eastern Turkey, sparked a wave of anger on Tuesday April 2 that was expressed as far as Istanbul. Abdullah Zeydan was elected on Sunday with 55.48% of the vote in this large, predominantly Kurdish city, famous for its lake and close to the Iranian border. His main rival, from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was also swept aside in many large cities across the country, only obtained 27.15% of the vote.

The third political force in parliament, the DEM (ex-HDP), Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, denounces an “illegal” decision by the electoral commission which, according to it, challenged Mr. Zeydan’s political rights on Friday, unless 48 hours from the poll.

The pro-Kurdish party affirms that its candidate had nevertheless “accomplished all the required legal procedures and obtained validation of his candidacy by the High Electoral Committee (YSK)”. “The Ministry of Justice is trying to confiscate the will of the people of Van. It’s a political putsch,” DEM co-president Tuncer Bakirhan reacted during a rally in front of the High Electoral Council in Ankara.

“We reject the decision of the provincial electoral commission of Van to hand over the mandate of mayor of the metropolis to the AKP candidate,” the party protested in a press release.

Barricades erected in Van

Hundreds of supporters gathered in front of the party headquarters in Van to express their solidarity with the elected official, throwing smoke bombs and setting up barricades, according to images from the Turkish news agency DHA.

The police responded and dispersed the gathering using tear gas and water cannons. Around a hundred people also gathered in a tense atmosphere in Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, a district traditionally rebellious and hostile to the government. “No to government-appointed administrators, don’t touch the will of the Kurdish people,” the protesters chanted.

“Not handing over his mandate to the DEM party candidate elected mayor of Van is to deny the will of the people of Van. This is unacceptable,” reacted on X Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul (CHP, social-democratic opposition) re-elected on Sunday.

“It’s a matter of law, at the discretion of the provincial election commission,” AKP spokesperson Omer Celik replied at a press conference. “This is not an area where the government can intervene.” “Reacting within a democratic framework is everyone’s right. But turning this into violence has nothing to do with democracy,” he added.

Erdogan challenged by the opposition

Former HDP co-president Selahattin Demirtas, imprisoned since 2016 for “terrorism”, challenged Head of State Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “on election night, you declared that you would respect the will of the people. Unfortunately, what happened in Van is not consistent with your statements.”

In a message sent by his lawyers, he calls on “all our people, in particular the population of Van, as well as all pro-democracy forces and parties, to oppose this illegal decision.”

Elected HDP deputy in 2015, Abdullah Zeydan was arrested the following year along with around ten other members of his party. The authorities accused him of having attended the funerals of members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group considered terrorist by Ankara and its Western allies, which the government accuses of links with the main pro-Kurdish party in Turkey. Imprisoned, Mr. Zeydan was released in early 2022.

Around fifty mayors elected in 2019 under the HDP label in southeastern Turkey were replaced by administrators appointed by the state. These waves of arrests and dismissals had sparked tensions in the region and outraged reactions in the West.