ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Turkish authorities in the Kurdish city of Batman on Friday blocked the mayoral bid of a local politician who hoped to reclaim the administration of his town, currently run by a government-appointed bureaucrat. This came amid vows by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would not allow pro-Kurdish opposition members to hold posts even if they win.
The local electoral council, whose members are also appointed by Ankara's central government, rejected the application submitted by the duly elected mayor, Sabri Ozdemir, to run in the upcoming March 31 nationwide municipal elections as a candidate of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The reason they gave was that there were ongoing legal probes against him.
His lawyers are now preparing a legal challenge to the decision which they deemed unlawful, Kurdistan 24's bureau in the neighboring Diyarbakir Province reported.
The council's ruling came just a month after Turkish police arrested another mayoral candidate in the Kurdish city of Cizre along with 21 other local female politicians.
Batman, an oil-rich city of half a million people and with more than 300 thousand voters, elected Ozdemir as the mayor with 56 percent of the total vote. This totaled 26 percent higher than his nearest rival, a member of the party of then-Prime Minister Erdogan in the 2014 elections.
However, the Turkish Interior Ministry deposed Ozdemir and 18 members of Batman's city council in September 2016 and appointed a "trustee" named Ertug Sevket Aksoy, the Vice Governor, in his stead. This was part of an ongoing crackdown that has seen more than 100 other Kurdish mayors forced out of elected office. Over 60 of them remain in jail.
Auditors from the national Turkish Court of Accounts wrote in a November 2018 report that the municipality's debts had nearly doubled from 66 million Turkish Liras to 131 million ($24.5 million USD) in the two years under Aksoy's watch.
In 2017, he ordered the destruction of scores of gravestones belonging to fallen Kurdish militants who were laid to rest in Batman after being killed fighting the Turkish army or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Prosecutors launched "terror" investigations against Ozdemir, demanding life imprisonment for speeches he made during political campaigns and activities, a legal process which still continues.
Police have arrested and released him numerous times since then, the last of which was less than two weeks ago when he attended a local football match.
Only a day later, police forcibly removed a campaign stand where HDP members were asking for votes from people.
Pressure on the Kurdish movement in Turkey is increasing with the countdown to the elections already underway. Four Kurdish parties are now facing the prospects of closure by the Turkish Supreme Court for using the word "Kurdistan" in their names.
Along with the left-leaning HDP, President Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), his Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies, the opposition far-right IYI Party, the secular Republican People's Party, and a few independent candidates are all vying for control of nearly 1400 municipalities all over the country.
Erdogan has promised to depose Kurdish mayors once again, should they be elected next month.
Editing by John J. Catherine