Turkey reinstates vote winner after days of unrest

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Supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (DEM) celebrate after the Supreme electoral Board (YSK) changed their decisionImage source, METIN YOKSU/EPA-EFE

Turkey’s election authority has scrapped a decision to annul an pro-Kurdish candidate’s election victory after days of escalating protests.

Abdullah Zeydan won the mayoral elections in the eastern province of Van with more than 55% of the vote.

But election officials handed victory to a man standing for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party with less than half his vote.

Their decision led to protests and clashes across south-eastern Turkey.

Regional officials in Van overturned Abdullah Zeydan’s election win, citing a previous conviction during a crackdown on pro-Kurdish politicians in 2016.

Van was one of 10 areas won by the pro-Kurdish DEM party in Turkey’s south and south-east in last Sunday’s local elections.

The ruling AK Party suffered its first election defeat across the country since 2002, as the main opposition party, the CHP, won in 35 provincial capitals and regained control of the main cities of Istanbul and Ankara.

The secular CHP (Republican People’s Party) condemned the annulment of Mr Zeydan’s victory as a disgrace.

His DEM party denounced the move as a “political coup”, urging the Erdogan government to respect the will of Van’s voters.

Mr Zeydan served several years in jail on charges of links to Kurdish militants that targeted a number of party colleagues, including two leaders who remain behind bars. He was released in 2022.

A court ruling had allowed him to stand for election, but it was reversed two days before the vote.

Demonstrations erupted in Van, a Kurdish-majority city of half a million people, prompting riot police to use tear gas and water cannon. A ban imposed on protests in the city was ignored.

Then thousands of people took to the streets in other Turkish cities in the south and south-east, and there were rallies and protests as far west as Izmir and Istanbul.

On Thursday, Turkey’s Supreme Election Council decided to overturn the regional decision to annul Mr Zeydan’s victory, prompting party officials to say that “the will of the people has come to life”. Protests in the centre of Van were immediately replaced with celebrations.

The newly elected mayor said justice had been done. He thanked supporters and leaders of other political parties that had shown solidarity, as well as fellow Kurdish politicians who remained in jail.

Among the biggest winners in Sunday’s election was Istanbul’s popular opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who is increasingly being seen as the CHP’s most likely candidate in the next presidential elections in 2028.

He condemned what had taken place in Van as a “total aberration” and promised never to give up on democracy.

The CHP was beaten by the AK Party by fewer than 4,000 votes in Hatay province in the far south of Turkey, and accuses the governing party of trying to steal the election there.

Turkish election results graphic

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