Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has called on Turkey to reinstate mayors from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who were sacked and replaced with trustees.
In its legal opinion adopted on June 18, the commission said that Turkey “denied a number of successful candidates a mayoral mandate,” adding that it removed mayors of the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van.
“Based in part on a delegation visit to Turkey in February this year, the opinion adopted today notes that both the decisions by the Supreme Election Council of April 11, 2019 and by the Interior Minisry of Aug. 19, 2019 on the replacement of elected candidates and mayors are linked to the measures taken under the state of emergency that had been enacted following the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016,” the statement read.
“In the first situation, candidates banned from public service by virtue of emergency decree law were ex post considered ineligible, although their candidacies had been validated. In the second situation, mayors were suspended because of terrorism-related charges, on the basis of legal amendments introduced by emergency decree law, although they had been considered eligible at the time of elections when many of the investigations or charges against them had already been initiated,” it added.
Saying that the commission is “aware of the terrorist threat” in Turkey’s southeast, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), it noted that any unusual measures adopted over this “threat” needs to be based on evidence.
The council also pointed to the extraordinary measures adopted following the 2016 thwarted coup.
“That said, the state of emergency ended in 2018. It is a matter of concern that based on the framework of the emergency regime changes of a structural nature to the system of local government in place in Turkey have been introduced on a permanent basis. The necessity for these changes appeared doubtful even during the state of emergency. That concern is of course all the greater now that the state of emergency period is at an end.”
The commission said that “the ongoing effects of the previous emergency regime give rise to serious concerns,” adding that both sets of decision incompatible with basic principles of democracy – the respect for the free expression of the will of the voters and the rights of elected officials – and of the rule of law – including legality and legal certainty.
“The decisions by the Supreme Election Council are inconsistent with international norms and standards and should be reversed. It is crucial for the proper functioning of democracy that the candidates who received the highest number of votes are deemed elected, and not second placed candidates from other political parties,” it noted.
“The decisions by the Interior Ministry are based on state of emergency-rooted legislation, which allows for replacement of elected mayors by government officials. They undermine the very nature of local self-government and also should be repealed,” it said.
The final part of the legal opinion listed recommendations to Turkey, including making the law on ineligible candidates clear, recognizing the elected six mayoral candidates of the district municipalities of Diyarbakır, Erzurum, Kars and Van and reinstating the mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van.