Trustee discussions in Turkey

Discussions are ongoing about the trustees were appointed instead of mayors to the municipalities of Diyarbakir, Van, Mardin and some other districts.

The mayors, who were "investigated for terrorism", were replaced by trustees. Most of the mayors who were dismissed were either arrested as part of a" terrorism investigation "or are still under investigation.

Trustees' appointments bring some controversy. The AK Party argues that the appointments are precautionary, while other political parties say that the appointments for trustees are not "legal".

After the 31 March local elections, trustees were appointed to several municipalities in the eastern and southeastern provinces. Trustees were first assigned to 3 metropolitan municipalities on August 19, 2019.

Diyarbakir Metropolitan Mayor Adnan Selcuk Mızraklı, Mardin Metropolitan Mayor Ahmet Türk and Van Metropolitan Mayor Bedia Özgökçe Ertan were dismissed on the grounds that they had "links with the terrorist organization" and that "there was evidence and that they supported terrorist organizations". In place of the dismissed mayors, governors were appointed as the trustees.

The provincial and district municipalities that the trustees have been appointed so far are as follows:

Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality, and Kulp, Bismil, Kayapınar, Kocaköy, Yenisehir and Hazro district municipalities,

Mardin Metropolitan Municipality and Nusaybin, Kızıltepe, Savur, Derik and Mazıdağı district municipalities,

Van Metropolitan Municipality and Saray, Erciş, Ipekyolu, Başkale, Muradiye, Özalp district municipalities,

Hakkari Municipality and Yüksekova district municipality,

 Cizre and Idil district municipalities of Şırnak province,

Suruç district municipality of Şanlıurfa province,

Karayazı district municipality of Erzurum province,

Akpazarı district municipality of Tunceli province,

Ikiköprü district municipality of Batman province.

How do political parties look at the appointment of the trustees?

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party)

In a statement, regarding to the appointment of the trustees, Turkey's President and AK Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had warned before local elections on March 31 that his government would not hesitate to replace mayors from the HDP if they were deemed to be linked to the PKK.

Regarding to the appointment of the trustees to municipalities, AK Party spokesman Ömer Çelik said:" Democratic countries live and work within the legal framework. If an elected mayor does not abide by the principles of law, if he is helping a terrorist organization that is trying to destroy the basic principles of the rule of law and democracy, what kind of approach will be taken against this mayor? It would be a crime for any government to ignore a mechanism that aids terrorism in this way. If they had acted within the framework of the law, if they had observed these sensitivities, they would not have been removed from their duties."

Free Cause Party (HÜDA PAR)

HUDA Par headquarters issued a statement regarding the state-appointed officials [trustee] to Diyarbakır, Van and Mardin metropolitan municipalities.

"It is not right to seek a solution with unlawful practices," the statement read, adding that the application of appointing trustee procedure in ordinary periods would further damage confidence in the law and the institution of politics.

HUDA PAR stressed that the current guardianship was strengthened by an amendment to Municipal Law No. 5395 in 2016, while the central government's guardianship over local authorities is expected to be abolished or at least weakened.

"Being elected does not give anyone the privilege of committing a crime, but the replacement of an elected person, who has been removed from his or her post due to alleged crimes, albeit temporary, by the ministry or the province governor's office, is also not legal, the statement said and underlining that even if it was made legal by the amendment in 2016

Republican People's Party (CHP)

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu criticized the government move of replacing four mayors from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) with state officials.

"The dismissal of mayors and the appointment of trustees in their place is contrary to democracy," Kılıçdaroğlu said on Oct. 22 addressing his party group members at the parliament.

"One of the first rules of justice is democracy, respecting the will of the nation," he stated.

Recalling that trustees are appointed in provinces of Diyarbakır, Van, and Mardin, Kılıçdaroğlu asked: "Then why did you hold these elections?"

The elected mayors of these provinces had taken necessary documents from the prosecutors and the High Election Board approved their candidacy, the CHP leader said.

If they were criminals, then the security forces had caught them, he noted.

The government’s move to replace mayors from any party is against democracy, Kılıçdaroğlu stressed.

"Our line is justice and democracy," he said and added: "Where justice is so harmed, the economy will be harmed.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)

MHP Chairman Devlet Bahceli described the metropolitan mayors who were dismissed from their Jobs as "terrorist supporters who blatantly work on the account of the PKK."

Devlet Bahçeli made a phone call to the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu to provide full support for the Turkish government’s appointment of trustees to the HDP-held metropolitan municipalities.    

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)

Regarding to the assignments of trustees over municipalities, Peoples’ Democratic Party Central Executive Board said: "The regulation enabling assignments of trustees over municipalities, brought through Decree with the Power of Law, by the AKP administration and Erdoğan violates multiple Constitutional clauses, democratic international agreements signed by Turkey, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Charter of Local Self Government, the universal law and fundamental human rights."

Why were the trustees appointed?

In its written statement, the Ministry of Interior remarked: "Mayors who are linked with terrorist organizations and have been found to support terrorist organizations have been dismissed under Article 127 of the Constitution and Article 47 of Municipal Law No. 5393."

The trustees' assignments took place in the Sur and Silvan district municipalities of Diyarbakir months after the pit incidents began.

Starting September 11, 2016, Turkey’s Ministry of Interior dismissed 96 mayors, including the Metropolitan Municipalities of Diyarbakir, Mardin and Van, and the provincial mayors of Hakkari, Siirt, Sirnak and Batman, and replaced them with trustees.

96 mayors, including the town mayors, were dismissed from their duties on the ground of digging ditches with municipal vehicles, carrying bombs and "financing terrorism" and "making terrorist propaganda".

What do the lawyers think of the trust?

Two of the leading figures of constitutional law in Turkey, Prof. Dr. Ergun Özbudun and Osman Can say the Interior Ministry has the authority to appoint a trustee, but they have criticized the procedure.

Professor Ergun Özbudun said: "According to the article 127 of the Constitution, it is only by judicial decision that the elected bodies of the local administrations could lose their status. However, the same article says that local administrative officials who are being prosecuted or investigated can be temporarily suspended by the decision of the interior minister until the court gives its final verdict. So yes, the Constitution gives the Interior Minister such authority, but it is a temporary authority. That is what the Constitution says. Therefore, the main decision is again on the judiciary. The correct approach, since there is a judicial process, is to wait for the outcome of this process. In the end, if the allegations are proven by a court order, no one would have any objection to this, and it is in accordance with the Constitution.

Professor Osman Can divides his criticism of the procedure into two parts:

The Interior Ministry has the authority for temporary removal of the mayors from office, and is authorized under the 47. Article of the municipal code. The decision of removal of the mayors from office must be reviewed every two months. It is also necessary for the crime to be related to the task. The authority of the Ministry to remove the mayors from the office due to terrorism claims and to appoint the trustees was imposed by the statutory decree No. 674 on 15.8.2016. Replacing a provision in the municipal code regulating the right to elect and be elected with the statutory decree is contrary to the Constitution and international conventions.

The second point is that the regulation introduced with the statutory decree makes the dismissal permanent. Accordingly, the statutory eliminates the possibility of a bimonthly reassessment in temporary dismissals. Therefore, it grants the Ministry a legally unchecked jurisdiction until the judicial process is concluded. (ILKHA)

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