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Poland voted again for the right extreme party

Poles went to the polls, some 61% (estimated) of the electorate showed up. Law and Justice (PiS) wins with 43.6% of the vote. It shall translate itself into 239 seats according to the polling institution, which would just be the majority of seats in the Sejm composed of 460 MPs. "Law and Justice" will continue to rule alone. Mateusz Morawiecki will continue to be PM. PiS had a number of controversial policy programme items including the judiciary reform, the media law and the cooperation with the local authorities. Yet the most important of the campaign promises were on the social policy: the minimal wage at a Western European standard by 2023.

A fresh start in the air

The new Sejm will see a new balance to the public discourse in Poland. The dark ages of a debate between an EPP member PO and the ruling Law and Justice is largely behind us. Piotr Buras is Head of ECFR’s Warsaw Office and a leading expert on Polish and EU politics : “Europe cannot prevent Poland’s or any other country’s backsliding towards semi-authoritarianism, nor can it ignore the disastrous implications of such a scenario. However, if Brussels and other democratic capitals want to avoid a contamination of the EU system, they will have to apply the full range of its instruments to fend it off: including the infringement procedures against Poland before the CJEU, Article 7, rule of law conditionality of EU funds and support for civil society. Political arguments will be no less important – and, as in relations with other external non-democratic powers, they should be vocal that ‘semi-authoritarianism’ is a clear violation of what Europe stands for, even with a renewed democratic mandate.” Pawel Zerka, a Policy Fellow and Senior Coordinator on European Power at ECFR, added: “High levels of support for PiS should not be interpreted as a sign that Poles have become nationalist or xenophobic. Rather, it reveals an effective party machine – and an ability of PiS to mobilise voters with policies based on direct social transfers. The opposition sought to frame this election around democracy, the rule of law and values of openness and tolerance. However, the cut-through seems to have been on national economic growth, social provision, and, ultimately, how well-off everyday Poles are feeling.   The opposition also paid the price of being divided into too many blocks – which, in turn, despite their collectively getting more votes than PiS, means they’ll have fewer seats in the Sejm.” How did this happen?
  •  PiS managed to mobilize its voters’ potential and benefited from the Polish electoral law (the d’Hondt method), which grants a bonus for the strongest party.
Takeaways:
    • PiS has reconfirmed its dominance, but still faces considerable opposition. Three democratic opposition parties gained almost 50 percent of votes. PiS has also a competition on the right side: the far-right party received more than 6 percent of votes and managed to get into the Parliament.
    • Despite popular policies, PiS has failed to capture the vote share it expected. While 5.7 Million of Poles voted for PiS in 2015, the party has struggled to attract new voters despite an array of popular social policy proposals and manifesto achievements.
    • PiS supporters are at odds with the majority of Poles on a number of key issues. A new ECFR survey shows that the views of many PiS voters, on issues such as Europe, the US, religion, and handling of public finances, are not widely held across Polish society. While PiS dominates the political scene, the country remains deeply divided.
  • Poland’s political system was at stake in this election. In the first years of its rule, PiS took control of the public media, constitutional court and judiciary, in violation of the Polish constitution, as well as international norms. In the next term, it is expected that the party will further strengthen its grip on the state by undermining the system of ‘checks and balances’. This will be advanced by a total overhaul of the judiciary; a continued policy of centralization; watering down the rights of civil society and NGOs; and increasing their control on the media.
  • Poland is on a downward path, democratically. PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has repeatedly referred to Turkey and Hungary as models to follow, and, under his rule, it is likely Poland will move towards becoming a ‘democratically legitimate, semi-authoritarian state’, in which a democratic change of government will become less and less likely.
  • PiS, with a renewed mandate, will be a strong player at an EU level. The party is trying to portray itself as part of the pro-European mainstream, following the failure of Eurosceptic parties in May’s EP elections. This new tone of PiS is aimed at strengthening its position in the final round of the EU budgetary negotiations and, most importantly, discouraging the EU institutions and member states from taking action on possible rule of law violations.
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