A woman displays the colors of the Kurdish flag in Turkey’s municipal elections. Photo: BDP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - In Turkey’s local elections on Sunday, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) looked set to expand its municipal control to Agri, Bitlis and Mardin -- three more major provinces previously controlled by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The latest unofficial polls also show that the BDP has won in Diyarbakir, Batman, Sirnak, Hakkari, Van, Igdir, Siirt, and Dersim.
The BDP was able to wrest control over Mardin by fielding veteran Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk and an Assyrian female candidate who will be co-mayor along with Turk.
The BDP ran for the municipal elections for the first time in 2009, winning 99 small-town and city municipalities across Turkey. The Kurdish party won 5.7 percent of the national votes, which rose to 6.5 percent in the 2011 parliamentary elections.
The AKP party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the majority of the votes, mainly in the west of the country. But in the Kurdish areas it had the BDP to contend with.
During the election campaign in Diyarbakir, Erdogan attacked the BDP by depicting it as a wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which seeks to send the Kurdish youth to the mountains to be killed.
Yet, in the wake of the elections, his government released 45 prisoners who had been jailed for alleged ties with the PKK. This move was seen as a pre-election maneuver by AKP to curry favor with the Kurdish community.
Kurdish leaders celebrated the release of their prisoners, but dismissed the Turkish government as insincere about reaching a lasting peace with the Kurds.
According to election observers, the ruling party used irregularities and pressure during the vote.
“There were irregularities and it’s not an election with international standards,” said Jabar Amin, a Swedish member of parliament who was part of a European monitoring team in Diyarbakir.
“There was fraud and the election was under pressure in different forms. The ruling party has used the government departments for its use,” Amin said. He added that some polling stations had been surrounded by Turkish soldiers.
“This is alarming in a country that inspires to be an EU member,” he noted.
The Swedish MP said the international observers were prevented from visiting some polling stations, “which means fraud was going on.”
During the vote-counting process, some provinces experienced electricity blackouts, which opposition groups claimed were deliberately caused by the AKP to tamper with the election results. The AKP denied these charges.
In the Hurryiet Daily, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz blamed the electricity failures on severe weather conditions, snow and wind in the eastern provinces.