Denk, the party founded by two Dutch Turkish MPs who split from Labour in 2015, has published its list of candidates for Rotterdam city council when local elections are held in March.
Party leader Tunahan Kuzu unveiled the top six candidates on the city’s Coolsingel on Sunday. The name at the top of the list, Stephan van Baarle, was a surprise to many, although the 26-year-old who studied sociology at the city’s Erasmus University has worked as a parliamentary researcher for Denk since its foundation.
Van Baarle, whose father is of Turkish origin, said: ‘I had a choice: did I carry on reading research papers into inequality or go and do something about it?’
The list also includes Aydin Peksert, an independent councillor who was expelled from Nida, another party with Muslim roots, amid accusations that he was a ‘spy in the camp’ for Denk. However, Peksert is ranked 19 of the 20 candidates, just above Kuzu himself, who occupies the position of ‘lijstduwer’ – a high-profile candidate whose name is put at the bottom of the list to attract more votes for the whole group.
Rotterdam is expected to be one of the most fiercely contested municipalities, with several parties chasing the same fraction of the electorate. While Denk are hoping to eclipse the popularity of local party Nisa, the populist party Leefbaar Rotterdam are engaged in a battle for votes with Geert Wilders’s PVV group, which is fielding candidates in the city for the first time.
Forum voor Democratie, the fast-growing right-wing party led by Thierry Baudet, is also taking part but has entered an electoral pact with Leefbaar.
Van Baarle said he believed Denk had the potential to become the largest group on the council, partly because of the fragmentation in Rotterdam’s politics. ‘If we win six to 10 seats we can be the biggest group,’ he said. ‘At the 2017 parliamentary elections 25,000 Rotterdammers voted for Denk. That’s equivalent to six seats on the council.’
In the 2014 election Leefbaar Rotterdam was the largest party with 14 of the 45 seats, followed by Labour (PvdA) on eight, D66 on six and the Socialists (SP) with five. The council is run by a coalition of Leefbaar, D66 and the Christian Democrats (CDA).