The Denk (Think) Party -- formed in 2015 by ethnic Turkish lawmakers Tunahan Kuzu and Selcuk Ozturk after their expulsion from the Labor Party, whose integration policy they opposed -- attracted over 200,000 votes not just from expatriate Turks, but from people from various backgrounds opposing discrimination and racism.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency after the election, party leader Kuzu said the party’s chief focus will be fighting politicians like Prime Minister Mark Rutte and far-right leader Geert Wilders and their followers, who he said support rising Islamophobia and racism.
Rutte’s government found itself at odds with Ankara days before the election, when it blocked Turkish government ministers from campaigning in Rotterdam for an April 16 referendum in Turkey. Turkish-Dutch citizens protesting the move faced a harsh police crackdown, and days of harsh words have followed.
Wednesday’s election set Rutte for an apparent third term, as his People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) got the largest share of votes, winning 33 out of 150 parliamentary seats, down from 41 in the 2012 election.
The vote fell short for Wilders’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), which saw its presumed lead evaporate to win just 20 seats.
During the campaign, Wilders pledged to take the Netherlands out of the EU, close all mosques, and ban the Quran.
New political ground
Votes for The Denk Party exceeded those of Lodewijk Asscher’s Labor Party (PvdA) and Wilders’ far-right PVV in three largest cities of the country.
In Rotterdam and the Hague, it got 7.1 percent and 8.1 percent votes, respectively, while PvdA, which is expected to win nine seats in the parliament, got 6.5 percent and 6.4 percent votes, respectively.
In the capital Amsterdam, the party's 7.5 percent of total votes exceeded Wilders’ far-right PVV with 7.1 percent.
Kuzu said he was heartened to break new political ground. "Minorities from different ethnic backgrounds showed their uneasiness with the situation in the Netherlands by voting for us."
He added: "They have given a message to the Netherlands saying, 'Think where we’re from and where we’re going'.”
Kuzu said they worked hard during the election campaigns. "We visited almost 150 cities in the Netherlands. We told people about our message.
"We need to love the Netherlands as much as we love our homeland. We told them how we should fight racism together. As a result, the voters got the message and favored the Denk Party," Kuzu added.
The official election results are due to be announced next Tuesday.