Polish opposition vows to stand up to government reforms

Ruling Law and Justice party takes 44% of vote, eight seats more than absolute majority

Leader of Poland’s victorious Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski: ‘We’ll have to consider a lot of things.’ Photograph: Getty

Leader of Poland’s victorious Law and Justice (PiS) party Jaroslaw Kaczynski: ‘We’ll have to consider a lot of things.’ Photograph: Getty

 

Poland’s opposition have vowed to challenge Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s promise to “remake” his homeland, a day after his Law and Justice (PiS) party won the country’s general election.

In a first for democratic politics in Poland, PiS was re-elected for a second term with an even stronger absolute majority in the lower house, the Sejm.

However, the party – which straddles left-wing welfare policies and values conservatism – lost control of the senate, the upper house, loosening its absolute grip on power.

“This [result] means an obligation for us, an obligation for more work, more ideas, looking at the groups that didn’t support us,” said Mr Kaczynski. “We’ll have to consider a lot of things.”

Final results saw PiS take nearly 44 per cent of the vote and 239 seats, eight seats more than an absolute majority.

Though its support was up about six points, or two million votes, it gained just four extra seats in a more crowded new Sejm.

Sunday’s election ended in disappointment for the liberal Civic Platform (PO), with 27 per cent, while Sunday’s parliamentary return of the left-wing alliance, after a 2015 election wipe-out, was limited to 12.5 per cent. Another new arrival is the far-right, extremist Confederation group, on 7 per cent.

Behind the official jubilation, the result was a disappointment for Mr Kaczynski. He had hoped for a comfortable parliamentary majority to insulate the party against internal feuding and the machinations of some ambitious and independent-minded cabinet ministers. And some analysts suggest Sunday’s result could complicate PiS hopes of winning next year’s presidential election.

A turnout of more than 60 per cent, the highest in three decades, saw PiS narrowly losing its majority in the 100-seat senate. That could allow a united opposition majority slow – if not halt – the PiS reform agenda that has brought it into conflict with its judiciary, the media, the European Commission and Europe’s highest court.

Opposition politicians suggested PiS had bribed the electorate with their own money, such as a 500 zloty (€113) child allowance in 2015 and the promise of a 2,600 zloty (€600) monthly minimum wage next year.

Gay pride parade organiser Bartosz Staszewski, meanwhile, feared that PiS incitement against the LGBT community will not end with the election campaign, and that “the worst is yet to happen”.

Election analysts largely agreed that PiS earned its victory with clear and targeted messaging, and a record of delivering political promises and the strongest campaign of clear and targeted messaging.

‘Not a frenzied mass’

Sociologist Jan Spiewak suggested the second PiS victory in succession was about disillusioned Polish voters drawing a clear line under the neoliberal transformation of the last three decades and the “invisible violence of the markets”.

“The supporters of PiS are not a frenzied mass that wants to beat the gays and introduce theocracy, they are not people who sold their freedom for 500 zloty,” he said. “Freedom means nothing when you can’t make it to the first day of the next month. People want a strong and efficient state as well as agency in politics. The neoliberal model of the society and government has been totally discredited.”

Other analysts suggested that, 30 years after voters backed democratic transition, PiS will interpret the vote as a political mandate to push Poland back in a more authoritarian direction – with foreign-owned media and the courts in their sights.

Mr Kaczynski has vowed to complete a controversial judicial reform that he says is about breaking open encrusted structures. Critics fear the end result will be politicised courts and pliant judges under the sway of PiS.

Last week the outgoing European Commission filed the latest in a series of complaints against the court reforms with the bloc’s highest court in Luxembourg. But PiS officials in Warsaw are optimistic of a more lenient approach from the incoming commission under Ursula von der Leyen.

“They have a very narrow majority but it is a majority and there is a mandate and I think they will use this space they have as much as they can to entrench themselves in institutions of state and take control of them,” said Piotr Buras, Warsaw office head of the European Council on Foreign Relations.  

“I think we are on our way to a semi-authoritarian state and Hungary and Turkey are the models.”

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