Party profiles — DENK

There will be general elections next March, and the dozen-plus-a-few Dutch parties are preparing for them. It’s time for another series of party profiles. We’ll go in order from small to large according to the August 2020 polls.

Today we’ll continue with Denk, a party for non-white Dutch.

Full name
Dutch: Think. Turkish: equal
Party leader
Farid Azarkan, since 2020
In parliament since
Single Issue
Protest party
Current seats
Polls (August 2020)

From a conceptual point of view Denk is a very interesting party; not only in the Dutch context, but also in a European one. From a practical perspective, though, it’s rubbish, displaying all problems small parties usually have, plus a few unique ones.

For some history, see section 3 of this 2017 article, as well as this one and its sequel about the Turkish-Dutch row of 2017.

Denk was founded in 2015 by two PvdA MPs of Turkish descent, Kuzu and Öztürk, who felt that the voice of non-white Dutch was heard too little in politics — and they have a point there. Also, they were in some sort of row with the PvdA leadership. (Frankly, I forget the details.)

As far as I know this is the first political party in Europe (or in the world?) that explictly caters to new national minorities descending from the 60s and 70s 'guest workers'. As such, I think it’s an excellent idea that should be copied in other countries. But then, the Dutch political system is uncommonly hospitable to small minorities due to our extreme form of proportional representation where about 70,000 votes net you one seat in parliament.

Kuzu and Öztürk managed to scrape together enough votes for 3 seats in the 2017 elections, supported by ethnic Turks, and also Moroccans, who mostly voted for Farid Azarkan, the number 2 on the party list and of Moroccan descent himself. See this small fry, item 3.

The numbers

Is a party for non-whites viable? It could be. According to 2016 statistics there are roughly 400K Turkish, 385K Moroccan, 350K Surinam, and 150K Antillian Dutch. (Fun fact: the current population of the Dutch Antiles is 225K, while Suriname has 575K, so 35% live in the former motherland.)

These four groups together form a sizable minority of 1.3 million; about 7.5% of the total population — or 11 seats. Of course, some people of Turkish or Moroccan descent are not Dutch citizens, while among all these groups turnout is lower than among whites. (Surinamers and Antillians, being from the former or current colonies, mostly do have the Dutch nationality.)

And that doesn’t even count smaller groups such as Syrians, Somalians, and Ghanese. Still, among these groups there are far fewer Dutch citizens than among the big four, and many of them don’t speak Dutch, either. So they are a few steps behind the big four when it comes to political representation.

Historically, voting non-whites supported the left, with blacks mostly opting for PvdA, Moroccans most often for GL, and Turks for both. That voting behaviour is changing, though, and Denk hopes to profit from it.

The original Denk plan also called for blacks joining the party, but an attempt to recruit black TV personality Sylvana Simons as party leader in 2017 failed. She split off to form her own party after a few months, and cited lack of help from Denk in beating off an attack by right-wing social media trolls. Also (but this is my private opinion) I think a bit of brown-on-black racism may have played a role. In 2017 Simons failed to enter parliament on her own, but she may very well try again in 2021. So Denk might be joined by a second party for non-whites.

In any case, right now the Denk electorate is concentrated among people of Turkish and Moroccan descent, in that order.

Turkish and Moroccan affairs

From the outset Denk uncritically supported Turkish leader Erdoğan, and denied the Armenian genocide of 1916; there was no such thing, thanks so much for your interest. This stance severly limits the party’s relations with the other parties, who don’t like Erdoğan and Armenian genocides, but it is quite important to a substantial subsection of Dutch Turks.

Also, the Turkish government actively follows Turks abroad, and tries to align their political clout in their country of citizenship with the motherland and especially the ruling APK party — the Turkish row of 2017 show that clearly. It is to be assumed Denk is in occasional contact with Turkish officials.

Dutch Moroccans have quite different interests. From 2016, the inhabitants of the Rif mountains in northern Morocco, overwhelmingly of Berber descent, have been engaged in a simmering not-quite revolt against the Arab-dominated government. Most Dutch Moroccans actually have their roots the Rif (and help the local economy by going on holiday there), so these issues are important to them. We haven’t heard Denk take a standpoint on this as yet. This is one item to watch, especially if, as seems likely, Moroccan-descended Azarkan is still party leader during the 2021 elections.

Internal party affairs

After a few years where Denk appeared to do well, a frightful row broke out between Kuzu and Öztürk into which Azarkan was pulled. It’s hard to figure out who said what about whose what, and who expelled whom from the party, but suffice it to say that an extramarital affair of Kuzu’s was involved, and that the two Denk founders were fighting a very public fight. Eventually, Öztürk left the party altogether, Azarkan became party leader, and Kuzu’s current role is unclear. All three still appear to be MPs, though — a situation worthy of the small extreme right.

It turns out that politicians of Turkish or Moroccan descent are pretty much the same as other Dutch politicians in smaller, ego-driven parties. Also, it turns out that their voters don’t much differ from other voters: they don’t like this sort of thing. Where before its self-inflicted crisis Denk was at 2 or 3 seats in the polls, it now firmly dropped to 1. So it seems likely that the party will survive, just barely, but not play any important role in the next parliamentary session.

Given the party’s predominantly Turkish voters, it is possible Azarkan will be replaced by someone of Turkish descent. And if that process is quick and painless it could work. On the other hand, there is no such thing as a quick and painless leadership change in Denk, and even if it worked, what would the Moroccan-descended voters think? So all in all I think the party would be best served by retaining Azarkan (though the number 2 spot on the list should go to a Turkish Dutch).

<— Party profiles — 50Plus and PvdT | Party profiles — SGP and PvdD —>

This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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