The Netherlands' DENK Party has stated its intention to fight against rising Islamphobia and racism on the heels of forming a new coalition government in the country after 209 days of talks.
The DENK Party is the first political party in the Netherlands established by migrants, two parliamentarians with Turkish roots, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, who left the Labour Party (PvdA) due to the fact that it was inadequate in defending the rights of minorities, especially those of Muslim and Turkish origin.
'Many people feel like second-class citizens in the Netherlands'
Tunahan Kuzu, leader of the DENK Party, which means "think" in Dutch and "equal" in Turkish, referring to the protocol prepared by the new government, told Daily Sabah that "There is nothing new against racism or Islamphobia," adding that it is predictable that there won't be anything new in the approach taken by Rutte's new government on the issue.
"Each and every person living in the Netherlands is equally important to us. The distinction of 'you' and 'we' in society will have much deeper aspects in the years ahead. Due to rising Islamphobia and racism in recent years, many people feel like second-class citizens in the Netherlands," Kuzu said.
The Netherlands took initial steps to form its government in recent days, announcing the coalition under the leadership of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the leader of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), 209 days after the elections held on March 15, 2017, following what has been the longest period of non-established government in the history of the Netherlands since World War II.
The PvdA's goal to gain the immigrant vote in the elections backfired as a result of increasing popular support for the DENK Party in capturing three of the 150 seats in the Netherlands' House of Representatives, as two of them are Turkish and one is Moroccan.
This was regarded as a remarkable success for the party, formed under the motto, "The Netherlands is ours again," in Dutch media, considering the fact that the party was formed just a few months before the elections.
'We are in parliament against Islamphobia'
Kuzu stated before the elections that the most important goal of the party is to put up a fight against "increasing racism and Islamphobia in the Netherlands," as in the other Western European countries, and among the politicians "such as Wilders and Rutte and their followers, who create provocation among the public."
His opinions remained unchanged after the election, as he said the main purposes of the DENK Party were to protect minorities' rights and to challenge the rising far-right in the country.
He indicated that they have proposed resolutions to prevent racism against Muslims in business life but asserted that such proposals were denied. "We even presented a proposal on protecting mosques in a more efficient way, following the terrorist attack that targeted a mosque in the Dutch city of Enschede. We have consistently expressed that we stand in parliament against Islamphobia - and we will. However, we did not see anything related to this issue being included in the coalition protocol," he said.
Despite the Netherlands' center-right Prime Minister Rutte stating after the elections that "The Netherlands have brought an end to the wrongful populism attitude," he has, on numerous occasions, resorted to far-right rhetoric to prevent swaying right-wing voters to Wilders' Party For Freedom (PVV). Beginning with the phrase, "Aan alle Nederlanders" ("To all Netherlanders"), Rutte said in an open letter to Dutch de Volkskrant newspaper that "If you are not comfortable with the attitude of people toward each other in the country you live, you have a choice. You do not have to be here."
'Wilders' ideology toward foreigners represented by government'
The DENK Party leader contended that even though populist right-wing Wilders was not included government, his opinions have been internalized by coalition partners. "With the repeal of the dual citizenship, these people will have to make a choice. Unfortunately, this is a proposal made by those who share Wilders's ideology. Wilders and his party are not part of the coalition but, nevertheless, his attitude toward foreigners is being represented by the government in this aspect," he said.
Professor Özcan Hıdır, an academic at the Islamic University of Rotterdam and Istanbul's Sabahattin Zaim University, told Daily Sabah that center-right and center-left parties can be driven away when they become engulfed in the "far-right stream" as in this example in the Netherlands.
"In the Netherlands, the most important example of this is the center-left PvdA, which received support from Muslims and Turkish immigrants. However, due to the negative rhetoric of their leader Lodewijk Ascher, who served as a deputy prime minister in the previous government, and his stance toward the Turkish people, he substantially lost the support of Turkish and Muslim immigrants. A similar situation can be seen in the example of the Christian Democratic Party (CDA). Being the ruling party at one time, the CDA has also caught the disease which I refer to as 'Wildersization,'" he said.
Kuzu said the fight against rising Islamphobia and racism does indeed top their agenda, adding that problems regarding social equality will also be among the topics of their focus. Stressing this fact, Kuzu continued, "With the [implementation of] new protocols, the value-added tax (VAT) on staple food products will be increased and these products will become more expensive. This will create a gap between the poor and the rich. The health care system will also be more expensive. The lives of students will also be affected as education taxes became too expensive to afford and scholarships will be given on the condition of being paid back," he said.
Leading the March 15 elections, Mark Rutte's VVD had a right to have 33 congressmen in parliament, which can be perceived as a failure since they lost eight seats compared to the 2012 elections, while Rutte's main rival, Geert Wilders' PVV, a far right populist party known for the anti-Muslim rhetoric of its leader, came second with 20 chairs in parliament. Labour Party (PvdA), took part in the coalition with 38 chairs on the 2012 elections, as they lost the support of the citizens with migrant background, and left with 9 seats.