Turkey suspended mayors of 3 major Kurdish-majority cities. What’s next?

A protester is detained by police during a demonstration against the removal of three pro-Kurdish mayors, in Ankara on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2019

Turkey suspended mayors of 3 major Kurdish-majority cities. What’s next?

  • The move is a travesty of justice and makes a mockery of country’s electoral process, says analyst

ANKARA: The suspensions of elected mayors and the detainment of hundreds of people in eastern and southeastern Turkey has sparked harsh criticism and has raised questions as to why elections are being held in the country at all.

Regardless of the outcome of the March 31 elections, where all three cities increased their vote share, with 63, 54 and 56 percent respectively, the mayors of Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin were suspended and replaced by trustees on Monday by Turkey’s Interior Ministry as part of a terrorism-related investigation.

The seats vacated by Kurdish mayors will now be filled by people selected by the metropolitan municipal assemblies whose majorities are held by pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) members in the three cities. The HDP denounced the decision as a “political coup.”

According to Berk Esen, a political analyst from Bilkent University in Ankara, the suspension of elected mayors is a travesty of justice and makes a mockery of the electoral process that has already come under heavy strain over the past few years.

“Although the election of opposition mayors in major cities across Turkey this spring raised hopes that the regime is still competitive, this decision demonstrates the government’s uneasiness about retaining even the semblance of an electoral system,” he told Arab News.

Esen said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deals with each opposition party separately: While Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors are kept in place but their hands tied, those from the HDP are sometimes not even allowed to take their seats or keep them for long.

“The government has not offered any clear evidence linking the mayors to terrorist acts and has not declared why they were allowed to contest elections in the first place,” he added.

The decision has also drawn criticism from the EU.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The seats vacated by Kurdish mayors will now be filled by people selected by the metropolitan municipal assemblies whose majorities are held by pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party members in the three cities.

• The HDP denounced the decision as a ‘political coup.’

• Turkish electoral process has already come under heavy strain over the past few years.

“Dismissals and detentions of local politicians and appointment of trustees deprive voters of political representation at local level, and seriously risk damaging local democracy,” Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, stated.

Some experts say that such moves may trigger similar attempts in other big cities where the ruling party lost control in the previous elections. Istanbul’s new mayor and a secular challenger, Ekrem Imamoglu, was quick to protest the decision.

“It is impossible to associate the removal of Diyarbakir, Van and Mardin’s mayors with democratic practices. The three mayors who are replaced by state-appointed trustees were elected by popular vote in the March 31 local elections. Ignoring the will of the people is unacceptable,” he tweeted.

The justification of the Interior Ministry for appointing trustees is that the mayors are currently facing terror-linked legal proceedings about their speeches and political activities, although none of them have been formally charged.

Esen thinks that the government’s move will backfire.

“In all three cities the government had appointed caretakers in 2016 but still lost the election with a larger margin in 2019. The government, which until 2011 had the lion’s share of the Kurdish vote, is no longer able to win the hearts and minds of the people in the region and this move is going to make the situation worse,” he said.

According to Esen, with such undemocratic moves, the government is pushing main opposition parties to act together and may unintentionally help forge a common electoral front as we began to see in the 2019 local elections.


Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

Updated 09 December 2019

Arabs reject use of religion to gain power, poll suggests

  • Use of religion for political gain is rejected by 58 percent of respondents in a YouGov poll
  • Experts believe there is now more awareness of the tactics of religion-based political parties

DUBAI: Across the Arab world, an increasing number of citizens disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” according to a recent YouGov survey.

As part of its partnership with the Arab Strategy Forum, Arab News commissioned a survey of the views and concerns of Arabs today and their projections for the future of the region.

A total of 3,079 Arabic speakers were surveyed, aged 18 and above and living across 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Results revealed that 43 percent strongly disagree with the “use of religion for political gain,” while 15 percent “somewhat disagree.” By contrast, 7 percent strongly agree and 8 percent “somewhat agree.”

Another 14 percent “neither agree nor disagree” with the “use of religion for political gain.”

The combined average, however, unambiguously opposes the idea — at 58 percent. “The cases of Lebanon and Iraq shows a streak of anti-sectarianism rather than that of anti-religion per se,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi.

“Religious beliefs are deep-seated in these societies, so the advent of Western-style secularism in the region is doubtful. Even the most secular country in the Middle East, Turkey, turned out to have religious inclinations when it voted in an Islamist party” more than a decade ago. 

As long as people have little trust in political institutions, they will revert to their primary social institutions, notably religion, family and tribe, Al-Shateri told Arab News.

Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said that the YouGov findings suggest that the days of using religion for political gain are over.

“We are seeing more and more awareness that religion-based political parties are not so genuine in their religious preaching,” he told Arab News.

“People are becoming aware that those who preach freedom, equality, democracy and women’s empowerment using religious discourse are no longer believable.”

Significant numbers disagreed with the statement in Iraq and Kuwait (74 percent), as well as in Lebanon (73 percent), Libya (75 percent), Sudan (79 percent), and Syria and Yemen (71 percent). 

“Ultimately, it’s a question of credibility of politicians,” said Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at Chatham House, adding that “the credibility of political establishments is on the decrease globally because they are failing to deliver.”

He said that there is a general sense globally that political establishments are corrupt and not credible, which he partly pins on shifts in generational issues.

“Your grandparents’ concerns were probably more nationalistic,” he told Arab News.

“The generation of your parents were more about religion and, frankly, the new generation is more concerned about gender issues than anything else.

“Nationalism is totally irrelevant to them and religion far less.”

According to Shehadi, exploitation of religion no longer stirs up the young generation as they have different concerns. “They are on a different planet from politicians,” he said.

“Politicians are addressing issues that are very different from what the new generation is concerned with.”

With unrest continuing in several Arab countries, including Iraq and Lebanon, Abdulla sees it as a second round of the so-called Arab Spring, this time gripping Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.

“What is clear is that this second round is much more peaceful, focused and has already delivered a great deal,” he said.

“In Sudan, we have seen a very peaceful transition that was done to the satisfaction of the Sudanese people, and transition to democracy is going smoothly.

“In Algeria, it’s settling down and an election is coming up with some opposing it. But none of these two cases have witnessed the violence that engulfed Libya and Syria.”

That said, the future will depend on how governments and societies respond to the demands of the youth, according to Al-Shateri.

“The region faces many problems. However, the underlying cause is the lack of good governance. The concept of good governance has its provenance in Arab and Islamic traditions; it is not the equivalent of Westminster-style government necessarily.

“It is based on accountability, justice, equality, rule of law, ombudsmanship and the right to petition the government.”

Al-Shateri said Lebanon, Algeria, Iran and Iraq are examples of countries that have failed to provide these conditions, adding that the same was the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Syria when the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011.

If regional countries achieve good governance, Al-Shateri expects many improvements in society, the economy and governance. “Short of that, the region will languish in backwardness, underdevelopment and conflict,” he said.