Fifth column: The young Turks


Though politicians with migrant backgrounds face tough electoral challenges, their mere existence may be enough to radically change the political scene in Flanders

Look to the north

Flanders has always taken a keen interest in Dutch politics. For decades, the neighbour to the north was our “guiding country”.

This admiration waned around the turn of the century, with the rise of Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch politician with views similar to Geert Wilders’. But the fascination remains.

The Dutch elections were marked by the incidents between the Netherlands and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. His European campaign for an upcoming referendum that could grant him more power has resulted in clashes with both the Netherlands and Germany, after both countries banned Turkish electioneering in their borders.

As expected, Flanders has been affected by these international developments. It has a large population of Turkish descent, with a clear majority of Erdoğan supporters.

After the failed coup in Turkey last summer, polarisation mounted among the Turkish community in Flanders. Opponents of Erdoğan often do not dare to speak up, as they feel intimidated by their own communities. N-VA politician Zuhal Demir, of Turkish descent, even received death threats after she was falsely accused of supporting terrorism in the Turkish press.

Like in the Netherlands and Germany, a Turkish rally (not by Erdoğan’s AKP, but by a more extremist party) has been banned in Antwerp for security reasons. In Ghent and Genk, gatherings will probably be allowed.

All of this paved the way for a new kind of political party: migrant parties. In the Netherlands, DENK, with founders of Turkish descent, unexpectedly took three seats in parliament.

Here, at least two activists with migrant backgrounds are considering starting similar parties. One of them is Ahmet Koç, a member of the Limburg provincial council. Koç was expelled from the socialist party SP.A for his Erdoğan sympathies and alleged involvement in agitation in the wake of the failed coup.

The other is Dyab Abou Jahjah, of Lebanese origin. He became a household name some 15 years ago when he founded the Arab European League and participated in the 2003 elections. He has become a fierce debater and columnist since but has been accused of anti-Semitism.

Koç and Abou Jahjah (pictured) face some tough challenges. Unlike the Netherlands, Belgium has an electoral threshold  of 5%, which makes it much harder for new parties to get into parliament.

They stand a better chance in the 2018 local elections in certain municipalities. By their mere existence, they may also influence other parties, as was the case in the Netherlands.

Photo: Dyab Abou Jahjah/Facebook