What Happened When The Poles Went To The Polls

As Polish politics heads towards a hot end to the year, the big winners of these elections are KO and Donald Tusk himself

What Happened When The Poles Went To The Polls

On 15 October, parliamentary elections were held in Poland, in which Poles "elected" 460 members of the Sejm and 100 members of the Senate (the quotation marks result from the author's lack of faith in bourgeois elections, who calls the system not democracy, but electoralism.) In his radio show, one of the popular Polish journalists called the elections "extraordinary" because each party believed that they won.

PiS government (2015-2023)

In 2015, the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość party (PiS – translated: Law and Justice party) took power. It was the first time since the fall of socialism in 1989 that one party won the elections alone (to be precise, the "United Right" coalition, in which the most important party is PiS, but there were also "Sovereign Poland" and "Agreement "). PiS returned to power after eight years of rule by the neoliberals from the Civic Platform (PO) led by Donald Tusk (who resigned as Prime Minister of Poland in 2014 to take over as President of the European Council) and their coalition partner PSL. In 2019, PiS was re-elected – and again gained a single-majority in the Polish Sejm (but lost its majority in the Senate, the second house of parliament). Moreover, the PiS candidate Andrzej Duda won the presidential elections in 2015 and 2020.

Eight years of PiS rule were characterised by the so-called "revolution of dignity" – appreciation of the Polish provinces with investments and social programs, as well as strong social conservatism – i.e. policies typical of, for example, Turkey’s Erdogan or Hungary’s Orban, restoring the "dignity" of the provinces while cultivating conservatism of the masses.

In 2015, one of the first things introduced was the "500+" benefit – each family has since then received PLN 500 each month for each child (at the very beginning for the second and subsequent children, but this act was quickly amended). "300+" was also introduced – a one-off benefit of PLN 300 for each child at the beginning of the school year. For retirees (the main electoral group of PiS), the government introduced the 13th pension (and, over time, also the 14th pension) – retirees received an additional pension equal to the minimum pension. Several large investments were also made – such as the LNG Terminal in Świnoujście (liquefied natural gas import terminal), Vistula Spit canal, and the construction of the Central Communication Port (a large airport on a scale similar to the Berlin Brandenburg airport and a railway network that could connect with this airport) was started. It was promised (although these promises were not kept) that many railway connections to provincial towns and bus connections would be restored.

In social issues, PiS cultivated an increased role for the Catholic Church in public life, promoted xenophobic (especially Islamophobia – against immigrants from the Middle East) and homophobic rhetoric (which is rather consistent with the views of most Poles). An aggressive anti-communist historical policy was pursued, "cursed soldiers" (who waged a civil war in Poland in 1944-47 against the communist government) were lionised, and Russophobic policies were introduced. In 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal, controlled by judges close to PiS (which sparked a dispute with the European Union, which even initiated a procedure against Poland for violating the "rule of law"), banned abortion in the case of fatal fetal defects (abortion in Poland has been banned since 1990, except for three cases: a) lethal defects of the fetus, b) when the woman's life or health is endangered by the continuation of pregnancy and c) when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act or rape; and it was the Constitutional Tribunal that found this first premise as unconstitutional – which was consistent with PiS rhetoric – and the results were huge protests). 

For some time, PiS cared very much about the image of its party as the "party of the people" – in the years 2015 – 2017, the prime minister was Beata Szydło – a woman from the countryside, very liked by the provincial electorate, who was known for keeping her election promises, including the introduction of "500+". However, PiS (for reasons I do not understand) in 2017 appointed Mateusz Morawiecki as prime minister – a banker (president of one of the largest banks in Poland), who also has communication problems (he has a straight face, is not good at public speaking, etc.) – thus he lost the party's "anti-establishment" image.

In foreign policy, PiS was a very close ally of the USA and NATO, but it was the first government in the history of Poland after 1989 that entered into conflict with the European Union (all previous governments, even to some extent the 1st PiS's government in 2005-2007, were fanatical pro-European). The PiS government also significantly began to attack Germany and Russia (and relations with Russia deteriorated significantly after the start of the Special Military Operation).

Of course the PiS rule was met with an unprecedented attack by the opposition, which almost immediately (due to changes in the judiciary) began to call the government "authoritarian" or "fascists" (and some even this empty term "totalitarianism"). The main reason for the indignation of the liberal opposition was, of course, undermining the role of the elites (lawyers, cultural elites – actors, journalists, celebrities, businessmen, etc.) and neoliberalism (the state began to become more involved in the economy than in the last 30 years, also through the above-mentioned social programs). They also attacked the government for the "total takeover of the public media" (and indeed TVP became a brazenly propaganda television, similar to "Godi media" in India, but we must not forget that during the PO government, it was also a propaganda media, but adapted to PO's – which means a policy that is not dangerous to the elites’ position). The opposition (calling itself "progressives") often personally attacked PiS supporters with ableist and classist comments, calling them, for example, "idiots," "simpletons" etc. 

However, in the 2019 elections, the opposition was unable to regain power with the slogans of "defending democracy." The situation changed in the second term of PiS rule because COVID-19 appeared and the escalation of the war in Ukraine because it brought an economic crisis and an increase in inflation. Moreover, until 2019, the Polish opposition was in chaos because it was deprived of its leader Donald Tusk, who returned to Polish politics only in 2021 (he ceased to be the President of the European Council in 2019) opposition started to consolidate. 

Elections – October 15, 2023 and the post-election landscape

During the election campaign, PiS decided that it would win the elections on the slogan of "defending Poland's security" (ie taking advantage of the Ukrainian conflict) – their election slogan was "A safe future for Poles." A referendum was organised in parallel with the elections, in which very tendentious (but well-thought-out questions) were supposed to give them control over the electoral rhetoric - this did not happen. In fact, no new solutions were proposed – they appealed to the hard-core electorate and retained it (ignoring the fact that after the Tribunal's 2020 ruling on abortion, PiS irreversibly lost several percentage points of support from "moderate" voters). Although it must be admitted that during the PiS government in Poland, there was the lowest unemployment in the history of Poland after 1989 (about 5%) – for comparison, during the PO-PSL government it was even 14% (!!!) – but PiS was not able to use it effectively in the campaign election.

On the other hand, the opposition hit some fairly sensitive points. They emphasised the importance of relations with the (unfortunately very popular among Poles) European Union and promised to "legalise abortion" (even though the opposition is also socially conservative and a large part of it supports the abortion ban). The Polish "left" (which actually consists of post-communists who, despite their political origins, created one of the most neoliberal governments in Poland's history in 2001-2005, social liberals focused only on issues such as LGBT, and the Razem party – created by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, i.e. the German version of the Open Society Foundation, which believes that the ideal path is "Nordic socialism" (which I criticised in one of my other articles). The entire Polish "left" is, of course, openly anti-communist, pro-NATO, pro-EU and pro-Ukrainian) focused on the housing crisis, promising to build social housing. 

The opposition also attacked the so-called PiS. They point out the hypocrisy of PiS with the "visa scandal" – despite PiS's xenophobic rhetoric, the deputy foreign minister was dismissed a few weeks before the elections for corruption related to the sale of visas to employees from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia (although PiS officially opposed immigration from Muslim countries).

However, the liberal opposition (Civic Coalition – formerly known as PO), the conservative-agrarian PSL, and the new party of the Polish journalist "Poland2050" – PSL and PL250 created an electoral coalition called the "Third Way") raised typical neoliberal arguments. They accused PiS of "wastefulness", making Poland completely indebted (which is not true because the debt to GDP ratio during the PiS government was lower than during the PO-PSL government in 2007-2014. They promised to reduce taxes and "de-partisan" the state. Many of these financial ("against wastefulness") of the opposition's proposal, in fact, despite its "progressive" sound, are neoliberal to the core - PSL, for example, promises no taxation of pensions in exchange for the abolition of the 13th and 14th pension... but in Poland, income tax is not paid by people who receive a pension lower than PLN 2,500 (over half of pensioners in Poland have a lower pension – as usual in neoliberalism, the poorest will lose).

These elections turned out to be historic – young people were very mobilised, which resulted in the highest voter turnout in the history of Poland after 1989 - 74%.

Ultimately, five coalitions entered the Polish Sejm:

  • PiS got 35% of the votes and 194 seats in the Sejm
  • The Civic Coalition got 31% and 157 seats
  • Third Way (PL250- 33 seats + PSL - 32 seats) – 14% and 65 seats
  • The Left (New Left – 19 seats + Razem – 7 seats) – 8.6% and 26 seats
  • fascist Confederation 7% and 18 seats.

However, in the Senate, PiS suffered a colossal defeat:

  • KO – 29% and 41 seats
  • PiS – 35% and 34 seats
  • Third Way – 11.5% and 11 seats
  • Confederation – 7% and 0 seats (!!!)
  • The Left – 5% and 9 seats

So, in total, the "democratic opposition" (that's what they call themselves – KO+TW+Left) has as many as 66 seats out of 100 in the Senate and 248 seats out of 460 in the Sejm. 

As I mentioned at the beginning – everyone (except Confederation, because they expected a much better result) announces that they won the elections – PiS because it is still the largest party (although it is unable to form a government because no one wants to enter into a coalition with them), and also the opposition because it has a majority in parliament.

Analysing the election results, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the big winners of these elections are KO and Donald Tusk himself, who got over half a million votes in his constituency, which is the best individual result in the entire electoral history of Poland after 1989; and Third Way which achieved a much better result than polls predicted). Even though the Confederation wanted to get a better result, they won seven more seats than in the 2019 elections. 

The big losers are, of course, PiS (which lost as many as 41 seats) and The Left, which lost as much as half of its seats (23 to be exact). It turned out that those outraged by the abortion ban (which had already been banned before, but the opposition media controlled by Washington – the largest television station in Poland belongs to the American company Discovery and is openly a KO propaganda mouthpiece – do not talk about it), attacks on immigrants (few days after elections, a well-known KO politician said that "under our rule, Poland will cooperate with civilised countries, and not, as with PiS, with Arabs" – in this statement she referred to part of the sale of shares by PiS in the state-owned fuel company Orlen to Saudi Aramco) or LGBT they didn't support The Left, but mainly... neoliberal KO.

The "democratic [i.e. neoliberal, elitist] opposition" seems united and all leaders of the parties included in this coalition declare that they will create a common government (as they declared before the elections) with Donald Tusk at the head. Of course, this will probably happen, but it is not known when. The new government will probably be formed only in December. Why? Due to constitutional procedures.

Now President Andrzej Duda (from PiS) has time to convene the first meeting of the newly elected parliament – he will probably do it on the last possible date, i.e. on November 13 or 14. From this day, he has 14 days to designate a candidate for prime minister (everything indicates that he will nominate a PiS member who will not be able to form a coalition), who will then have another two weeks to form a government – if he does not gather a majority, the Sejm will choose a new prime minister (who will probably be Donald Tusk). Why make such moves instead of immediately nominating Donald Tusk and swearing in the new government in mid-November instead of mid-December? I think this is for several reasons – it gives the new government less time to amend the budget (which basically means that the new government will have to partially implement the PiS budget for the first year), and it also gives PiS officials time to "clean up" the documentation incriminating them, etc. 

What will happen in the end? We don't know, we have to wait for the president's steps – but it will definitely be a hot end to the year in Polish politics.

Personally, I believe that under the opposition government (the next government will soon be in power, so this term will of course become obsolete), the situation in Poland will only worsen – there will be numerous cuts in investments (which will keep the Polish provinces in backwardness), the situation of poor people will worsen (by liquidating some PiS's social programs), and it will improve the wealthy (because taxes will probably be reduced). 

I do not believe that the Left (specifically 7 MPs from the Razem party) will be able to block the neoliberal moves of the future government (as promised by the Razem party before the elections), because these 7 MPs will not deprive the government of its majority. The only thing that can improve is Polish education ( theLeft wants this ministry) because, under the PiS government, Polish schools have been heavily ideological in right-wing indoctrination. We will see...

The author is a student of law in Poland