Winning most votes and 13 seats – more than Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party – the result surprised observers. FvD previously had no seats in the 75-member house.
The Dutch went to the ballot box just two days after an attack in Utrecht in which three people were killed. In the aftermath of the violence, all parties apart from FvD suspended their campaigning.
The party is led by 36-year-old Thierry Baudet, who was quick to blame the government’s migration policy for the assault.
“This is a combination of an honour killing and a half-terrorist motive,” he told supporters at a rally afterwards.
Dutch prosecutors say they plan to bring “terrorism charges” against a man of Turkish origin for the attacks.
FvD, which currently holds two seats in parliament, opposes immigration and advocates for “Nexit”: the Netherlands leaving the European Union.
Baudet talks about a “Dutch First” economic and cultural ideology which shares parallels with US President Donald Trump’s “America First” rhetoric.
Posing the question ‘Does Islam have a place in the Netherlands?’ in our national political debate shows that questioning elementary rights of immigrant communities has become mainstream.
Jan Jaap de Ruiter, professor
In his victory speech on Wednesday, Baudet blamed the establishment for what he described as the decay of Dutch culture.
“We are standing amidst the debris of what was once the greatest and most beautiful civilisation the world has ever known,” he said, blaming universities, journalists and politicians for undermining the potential of the Netherlands on the world stage.
Baudet has become known in the Netherlands for his hardline views. He has spoken out against immigration, the EU and last year said in an interview that women were less ambitious than men.
Laura van der Sanden, who lives and works in Amsterdam, says she is taken aback by the results, particularly given the perceived liberal Dutch mentality.
“I’m surprised,” she told Al Jazeera. “Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I’m disappointed.”
Professor Jan Jaap de Ruiter at Tilburg University, who lives in Utrecht, says that while some people are shocked by the success of FvD, there were signs of its rise before the attack in the city.
“The polls already indicated he was going for a major win,” he said, suggesting Baudet’s ability to position himself as an intellectual while advocating for populist policies has encouraged people to vote for his party.
“Baudet is very well versed, his victory speech was full of references to classical literature and poets.
“It attracts some people because he’s talking about a Netherlands which is independent and not part of the European Union. He conjures up this nostalgia for a Netherlands which has never really existed.”
Turnout in the provincial elections was slightly higher than four years ago at 54 percent, although lower than in general elections.
Diederick van der Wijk, cofounder and director of Refugees Forward – an organisation which helps refugees in the Netherlands to develop business ideas, says that FvD plays on people’s fears.
“FvD provides the traditionally powerful the false hope that this process of emancipation by immigrant communities can be stopped, and that the old boys can maintain their positions of power. The Dutch should rather embrace this transition into a more natural and sustainable balance of economic and political power.”
He said that the Netherlands should address how immigration is discussed in public debate.
“Forum voor Democratie’s rise is a big punch in the face for immigrants of first, second and third generations who work hard to make a contribution to Dutch society and climb up the ladders in their professional careers.
“Posing the question ‘Does Islam have a place in the Netherlands?’ in our national political debate shows that questioning elementary rights of immigrant communities has become mainstream.”
They’ve repackaged a lot of nativist, racist and harshly anti-immigration rhetoric in what is a seemingly a sleek and sophisticated exterior, but ultimately they’re racists in suits.
Kafui Adjogatse, Amsterdam resident
Anas Ragheb, a Syrian who has settled in the Netherlands, is a social entrepreneur. He said that the narrative around refugees in the country has also contributed to FvD’s success.
“There is too much talk in the media about refugees being jobless and staying on welfare for longer than four years,” he said.
“The consequences of this victory for the Forum voor Democratie are huge on the community of newcomers. The hate speech and Islamophobia will increase and society will be polarised.”
When the Senate is seated in May, Prime Minister Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, which has now lost its majority in the upper house, will now need to work with the opposition groups.
“We are going to have to get to work. We have to talk with other parties so we can continue to lead this country well,” he said on Wednesday after the results.
Geert Wilders’s far-right Freedom Party, which shares some parallels with FvD, lost four seats in the elections going from nine to five.
Kafui Adjogatse, a Briton who works in international development in Amsterdam, is concerned about how FvD and Baudet have managed to gloss over their hardline views.
“They’ve repackaged a lot of nativist, racist and harshly anti-immigration rhetoric in what is seemingly a sleek and sophisticated exterior,” he says, “but ultimately they’re racists in suits.”