IHD THIV Joint Statement on HDP Mayors’ Removal from Office and the Appropriation of Municipalities

The primary and sine qua non rule of democracy is to recognize the will of constituents. To respect and protect such will are the tasks of everyone in order to promote peace and democracy, to be able maintain one’s status as a citizen. IHD and HRFT, thereby, invite the political power to drop the assignment of state trustees and reinstate elected mayors, and call on all citizens to protect peace and democracy, thus, to protect their own will.

Today the Ministry of Interior has released a statement early in the morning saying that Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van greater municipality mayors from HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) were removed from office and they were replaced by the governors of the same cities.

The primary and sine qua non rule of democracy is to recognize the will of constituents. Diyarbakır Greater Municipality Co-Mayor Adnan Selçuk Mızraklı, Mardin Greater Municipality Co-Mayor Ahmet Türk and Van Greater Municipality Co-Mayor Bedia Özgökçe Ertan, who had won the local elections of 31 March 2019 by a landslide, have been removed from office on the grounds of pending investigations and legal proceedings against them. The bases for these removals from office were presented as Article 127 of the Constitution and Articles 45 and 47 of the Law No. 5393 on Municipalities which had been amended by the emergency decree law no. 674.

Article 38 of the Constitution prescribes the right to presumption of innocence and sets forth that no one shall be considered guilty until proven guilty in a court of law. Today’s removals from office and the appropriation of municipalities are absolutely unconstitutional and signify the political power’s operation to seize municipalities that it failed to win in the elections through anti-democratic laws and powers. The procedure of removal from office referred to in the ministry’s statement is one that is temporary and in this case a member of the municipal council should be elected to temporarily serve as deputy for the mayor’s office. Yet, directly appointing governors instead of what is set forth by law proves to be a state of emergency procedure in the strictest sense.

As will be remembered, Turkey had amended its Constitution in the referendum of 16 April 2017 under the state of emergency conditions and adopted an authoritarian governance model based on the will and authority of a single man. Furthermore, it was declared that these constitutional amendments were passed in the referendum by the Supreme Council of Elections’ unlawful decision that unsealed ballots and ballot envelops would be considered valid. The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission’s opinion of 13 March 2017 (no. 875/2017) on these constitutional amendments is very important.[1] The most significant critical point in this opinion is the deterioration in the principle of separation of powers and the consolidation of the president’s powers over the judiciary. The leader of a political party started to rule Turkey as its president with this new Constitution. Therefore, the fact that provincial and district governors who were appointed by the president would, at the same time, act as if they were the representatives of the ruling political party would be in line with the nature of things. Thus, the transfer of these greater municipalities, which could not be won in the elections, to the rule of governors in this way signifies their transfer to the governance of the ruling party.

One can consult Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities’ report on the appropriation of municipalities in Turkey during the state of emergency.[2]

94 HDP mayors had been removed from office during the state of emergency and these municipalities had been seized. 66 co-mayors, notably Diyarbakır Greater Municipality Co-Mayor Gültan Kışanak, and hundreds of municipal and provincial council members were jailed. HDP politicians re-won 56 of these municipalities by the popular vote in the 31 March local elections. The people, therefore, unreservedly objected to such removals from office and seizures. One can consult HDP’s “Trustee Report”[3] regarding how poorly the municipalities were run and how lavishly people’s resources were spent during the period known by the public as the “trustee period.”

Authorities did not permit launching investigations into governors, vice governors and district governors appointed in this way and these individuals were appointed to higher civilian administration posts by presidential decrees.

Numerous anti-democratic decisions were passed by the hand of the Supreme Council of Elections (SCE) in the 31 March local elections. The most important of these was the failure to hand in certificates of election to 5 HDP mayoral candidates, who were previously allowed to run for office, in spite of the fact that they won the elections. These were in Bağlar District of Diyarbakır; Edremit, Tuşba and Çaldıran districts of Van and Tekman District of Erzurum. The SCE did not confine itself to this and canceled the election certificates of HDP members, who had been dismissed from their posts through emergency decree laws, elected to the municipal and provincial councils whom it had previously allowed to run for office. İHD’s special local elections report can be consulted on this matter.[4] The SCE set HDP candidates up in the local elections and changed the outcome of the elections by interfering with the will of the people. AKP candidates who came in second in the elections replaced the elected HDP mayors who were not granted their election certificates.

As has been explained above, interferences with the will of the people within the last four years have been maintained in the recent local elections although the state of emergency was lifted and it has virtually peaked today. The state of emergency has become permanent in Turkey as we have persistently stated at every opportunity before. 32 emergency decrees declared during the state of emergency were passed into laws as was. We are now facing the practical implementations of such emergency decree laws that were granted law qualifications. The points that were not permanently regulated within the scope of such decree laws were later regulated by Law No. 7145 and the state of emergency has virtually been extended for another 3 years.[5]

Such flagrant intervention into the will of the people coincides with a period that has been witnessing various attempts at achieving peace. HDP issued a call for peace together with DTK (Democratic Society Congress) and HDK (Peoples’ Democratic Congress) on 4 August 2019. Likewise, Abdullah Öcalan, who last conferred with his lawyers on 7 August 2019, announced that he was willing to take initiative for a novel peace process. One cannot quite comprehend the fact that the political power has put downright security policies into effect in such periods.

The sole path to the resolution of Turkey’s chronic political, social and economic problems is to corroborate respect for human rights and establish peace and democracy in the country without any reservations at all. Endeavors for peace and democratization have sustained a very heavy blow today by flagrantly interfering with the will of the people and the constituents. We invite the political power to drop such intervention and reinstate elected mayors to their posts and call on all democratic powers to oppose the intervention of the political power because protecting the will of the people and the constituents, promoting peace and democracy are the tasks of everyone to be able to maintain being citizens.

Human Rights Association- Human Rights Foundation of Turkey

[1] European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), “Turkey Opinion on the Amendments to the Constitution Adopted by the Grand National Assembly on 21 January 2017 and to Be Submitted to a National Referendum on 16 April 2017.” https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=cdl-ad(2017)005-e

[2] Council of Europe, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, “Fact-finding Mission on the Situation of Local Elected Representatives in Turkey.” CG32(2017)13final, 29 March 2017. https://rm.coe.int/16806fbf0d

[3] HDP, “Kayyım Raporu” (Turkish), 28 February 2019. https://www.hdp.org.tr/tr/raporlar/hdp-raporlari/kayyim-raporumuz/12907

[4] İHD, “Special Report on the Local Electoral Process and 31 March Elections.” https://ihd.org.tr/en/?p=2140

[5] İHD, “Special Report on Law No. 7145 Regulating Permanent State of Emergency.” https://ihd.org.tr/en/?p=1891