What to expect from Poland’s general elections

What to expect from Poland’s general elections

Poland is about to end eight years of political stability and liberal policies. The political negotiations following today’s general elections will likely either result in an ineffective government due to the unpopularity of the ruling party, or lead to the emergence of a socially conservative and nationalist agenda with the victory of the opposition Law and justice Party.

On October 25th, Poles will be going to the polls for the second time this year, after Andrzej Duda from the Law and Justice Party (PiS) beat incumbent Komorowski (PO) in last May’s presidential elections. PiS – which is labeled as socially conservative and nationalist – is set to win Sunday’s general elections, when the Poles will be electing the members of the Parliament and indirectly appointing a new government.

During the campaign, Law and Justice has been trying to keep the momentum going by using Duda’s popularity and promoting the social programs focused agenda that initially got him elected. The main campaign promise was a pledge to raise public spending by 2.3 percent of GDP in order to improve social equity, including a cut in the retirement age and the introduction of a policy that would offer free medicine for people over 75 years old.

Leaders of the party also came out publicly against the EU refugee plan, with former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski – who still has a strong influence in the party – going as far as declaring that refugees could bring cholera and parasites to Europe.

Poland is often considered as an economic miracle, being the only European country that did not go into recession in the depth of the Euro crisis. Despite this performance, the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party has been losing support to nationalists and anti-establishment parties, who blame the increase in income inequality on the liberalization policies the government has introduced during the same period.

High youth-unemployment has resulted in an emigration boom (from 19,000 people in 2004 to about 276,000 in 2013) and several scandals have also harmed the party’s reputation and appeal to voters.

Heated political negotiations leading to fragile coalitions

The latest polls put Law and Justice and their candidate Beata Szydło (left) at least 36%, with a 10 point lead over PM Ewa Kopacz’s (right) Civic Platform, but the party would lack the majority needed to create a government on its own. Lagging behind the two main parties are factions that will likely be the kingmakers during the coalition negotiations to come.


Law and Justice; Civic Platform ; United Left ; Kukiz’15 ; Nowoczesna ; Polish People’s Party ; KORWIN & Polska Razem

The most likely scenario will see the PiS negotiate with two other factions, if they pass the 5% threshold required to join the Parliament. The first one is Kukiz’15, a party created and led by Pawel Kukiz – a popular rock star who gathered 20% of the votes last May on an anti-establishment platform. The second is the anti-immigrant and eurosceptic Renewal of the Republic Freedom and Hope (KORWIN).

Both parties would be difficult coalition partners for Beata Szydło and the negotiations promise to be tense. Kukiz will condition his partnership on the replacement of Poland’s list-based proportional electoral system with a UK-style single-member constituencies.

In case the PiS falls short of a majority and the coalition negotiations fail, the PO is expected to form a coalition with leftist parties – including the United Left (ZL) and the current junior coalition partner Polish People’s Party (PSL) – against Law and justice. However, the negotiations will also be difficult as those parties all have different agendas, especially regarding social policy and the liberalization of the economy.

If successful, the government led by the Civic Platform would then be supported by a fragile coalition in the parliament, with a high potential for cracks on many issues including the retirement age.

Most importantly, the coalition would have to have at least a three-fifth majority in Parliament to over-turn the presidential veto. If this is not the case, we can expect next term to be marked by a confrontation between Duda and Kopacz that would make controversial legislation impossible to pass.

A nationalistic Poland

Under a PiS government, the major policy shifts would be felt on domestic issues. The PiS will probably cut the retirement age, impose a new tax on banks and supermarkets, and lower taxes for small firms. Szydlo has also promised to introduce a minimum wage set at 12 zlotys per hour and to raise child benefits. Such a generous budget already worries some in Poland like central bank governor Marek Belka who sees such plans as dangerous.

It will surely raise eyebrows in Brussels, but no action will be taken considering the European Commission’s leniency towards Rome and Paris on similar matters.

Whether Law and Justice governs with Kukiz’15 and KORWiN or stands alone, its lead role will mean increased tensions with Brussels and Germany. Poland will focus on national interests and oppose further European integration. Simultaneously, Warsaw will follow Duda’s promises to re calibrate the relationship with Germany, and to seek a renewal of relations with Central Europe.

Specifically, Duda claims the PO has harmed Central European relations with decisions like the recent U-turn on the EU refugees plan after having previously supported Central European partners in their opposition. Warsaw will also initiate a rapprochement with the UK in spite of the EU treaties renegotiation.

Despite this focus on national interests, the prevailing geopolitical constraints which Poland faces will favor continuity in terms of foreign policy. Warsaw will be seeking ever-closer ties with the US in response to Russia’s aggressive behavior; and the country will remain a member of NATO, as well as keep pushing for the organization’s expansion.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Julien Freund

Julien is an analyst with a focus on Europe. He has worked as a lobbyist in Paris and Brussels and has written extensively on the rise of nationalist parties. He holds two master's degrees in geopolitics and international relations and in European relations, and received his BA in economics and social sciences from the Catholic Institute of Paris.