Anders Knape, president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, on Tuesday expressed grave concern about the removal of three elected Kurdish mayors from their posts by the Turkish government, saying the move seriously undermines the functioning of local democracy in the country.
In a controversial move on Monday the Turkish Interior Ministry removed the mayors of Mardin, Van and Diyarbakır in southeastern Turkey, claiming they have links to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The mayors were elected from the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the March 31 local elections.
“I express my grave concern about the decision of the Turkish authorities to suspend the elected mayors of three metropolitan cities in the south-east of the country, namely Diyarbakır, Mardın and Van, and to replace them with governors,” said Knape in his statement.
“These mayors were elected as a result of the free and fair expression of the will of the Turkish people during the local elections held on 31 March 2019, which were observed by the Congress.”
He recalled that in the past, the congress expressed concern about the excessive use of legal proceedings against local elected representatives in Turkey and their replacement by appointed officials.
“This practice seriously undermines the proper functioning of local democracy,” he added.
Knape also referred to the Congress Recommendation on the situation of local elected representatives in Turkey, adopted in 2017, and called on the Turkish authorities to address the issue without delay and in particular to restore the capacity of municipal councils to choose a replacement mayor.
“The Congress Bureau will continue to follow this situation closely, in particular at its next meeting in Strasbourg on Sept. 11, 2019. This situation will also be addressed during the monitoring mission planned from 1 to 4 October 2019 which aims to assess the implementation of the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in Turkey.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had warned before local elections on March 31 that his government would not hesitate to replace mayors from the HDP if they were deemed to be linked to the PKK. The HDP has experienced a wide-ranging crackdown since it won enough votes to enter parliament in 2015. Since then, the government has jailed hundreds of Kurdish politicians and seized about 100 municipalities in Turkey’s Southeast.