CEO at IBRIS Institute for Social and Market Research
The parliamentary elections in Poland ended with a predicted result – even if that one wasn’t exactly surprise-free. Before the vote, the analysts and pollsters agreed regarding the possible outcome – which would entail a victory of the governing party (Law and Justice – PiS). It would enable this force to continue ruling alone. What possibly hadn’t been anticipated was the scores for the Senate, where PiS ended up losing the majority. This was astonishing also because during the campaign there were no opinion polls done regarding the possible composition of the upper Chamber due to the nature of the electoral code for that institution. Polish Senators are elected in 100 majoritarian burrows, among which 30 are swing constituencies. As a result, nobody had been inclined to pursue what would be evidently a very complex data collection without which prediction was simply impossible.
Another revelation was the turnout, which reached an unprecedented level of almost 62%. In fact, 60% or lower was a figure that was expected – but not a vote more. The final figure was the highest in the last three decades. In itself, this vast mobilisation resonates a more general belief of the Polish (about 70% of the respondents), that the elections in 2019 would be the most important ones since the historical vote in 1989. To that end, almost everyone (more than 90%) was convinced that taking part would be important for them individually and personally.
The opinion polls were rather flat, with exception for the small differences in regards to the Polish Peasants Party (PSL, which in fact is less and less a peasants’ movement) and when it comes to extreme right in the shape of Confederation (Konfederacja). Growing turnout would benefit the two main political actors and would significantly limit the space of manoeuvre for the third one in ratings – namely the Left (Lewica). The problem of the later one were the very narrow reserves that would be mobilised in terms of gearing up support (which was evident, when evaluating last year’s regional and local elections’ results). The Left had also been facing a great disadvantage in finances, as, for example, the Civic Coalition (KO) could spend sums for its campaign which the Left couldn’t even dream about. It made KO more outspoken and present i.e. when it came to the internet campaign and production of materials. Those addressed specific issues that could convince especially those women, who could otherwise the potentially be the left-wing electorate.
The final outcome of the elections, even if it gave an unprecedented victory to the ruling PiS, is simultaneously also this party’s defeat. The loss of a majoritarian position in the Senate, the joint result for the opposition – those two already give no hope for a calm approach towards the upcoming presidential elections (that will take place in late spring of 2020). In fact, a potential victory of the opposition in the latter ones had already before been betted on, but now its probability grows. If that scenario comes to fulfil itself, the Law and Justice government in the years 2021-2023 will be less ruling and more floating around, which might end in a spectacular defeat.
This opens a space for the opposition to step up and take it into rivalry. It isn’t however one block and at least three parties are competing for the backing of the voters there – the conservative-liberal Civic Platform (PO, which is part of the EPP), the Left (Lewica, which is an alliance of three parties) and conservative-popular Polish Peasants Party (PSL). When it comes to PO, its’ strategy is based on a drive to eliminate the rest and be the only leader of the opposition. But after last Sunday, this plan is seriously endangered – PSL gained above 8% and though it is traditionally a Peasants’ Party, it conquered relevant positions in large cities as well. As a proof, it succeeded in winning a mandate in Warsaw. On the other hand, the Left is returning to Parliament after 4 years of absence. And this reappearance is done with a delegation that is refreshed in its composition and features many engaged, young and vehemently progressive representatives. So, in order to acquire voters of both those parties, PO would have to design a complicated manoeuvre that would make it attractive (and credible) for both the progressive and the conservative electorates. If it fails, PO would have to get ready to enter in a costly coalition with both in 2023.
Naturally, PO could also decide to try to take over the electorate of one of those two adversary forces. If that was to be their next move, it is rather obvious that a move towards the Left is to be expected. That is because PO knows that battlefield better, as it also adopted a greater number of rather well-known politicians who have been associated with a broadly understood centre left. The Left, on the other hand, should see this legislative period as an opportunity. But if it opts for moderate and cautious politics vis-à-vis PO – pretty much following its own behavioural patterns from the last two weeks of the campaign – it may promptly find itself marginalised and stuck on political peripheries without influence when it comes to steering Poland into a different trajectory.
For PiS, the new mandate will prove challenging at least as well. In order to win, the party put forward promises entailing all possible social benefits, which are bound to stretch the state’s budget to its limits. The loss in the Senate overshadowed the otherwise stunning effect of the most robust electoral result in 3rd Republic of Poland(8 million votes and almost 44% of support – which results beats the record of PO from 2007 – with 6,7 million and 41,5%). The new constellation will undermine the efficiency of their governing practices, as it will likely prolong all legislative processes. This will offer a kind of psychological encouragement to the voters of the opposition, showing that resistance is possible. And that is an incredibly important mobilising factor for this segment of the electorate.
The key to resolve all this will be the time of the presidential elections and the on-going – de facto – prolonged marathon-like campaign. The President in office, the conservative Andrzej Dida, has managed to sustain good relations with PiS, even though there hasn’t been a shortage of conflicts. Now these have to be forgiven and forgotten, pushing Andrzej Duda and his nominating party PiS to working closer together. That is because neither of the two can afford another loss.
For PO, the presidential elections are a chance to broaden its electoral base again and try to win primacy over the other opposition parties. In the run up to what comes down to be a personal vote, they will have to try to weaken especially the exceedingly popular Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, the leader of the Peasants’ Party – who is a politician of a younger generation. He is someone who should be carefully observed. But while that is a challenge, the presidential elections can in fact also be an opportunity for the current PO leader – Grzegorz Schetyna – to run away from attempts to hold him accountable for party’s election result (which by the way wasn’t even as bad as the unsatisfied party members would be tempted to describe it).
For the Left, the presidential elections will be very hard because they lack a politician that they could promote as one that naturally embodies a presidential spirit. Robert Biedron – who is popular and liked – is far from that calibre of a statesman. Adrian Zandberg, despite many of his advantages, is still too little known and his views are too radical to get elected. Among the interesting and talented women, who are bound to play a greater role in the politics of the coming months and years, there isn’t one that would enjoy the needed degree of popular recognition. So, in order to stand a chance to succeed, the Left would have to pick a strategy for the presidential elections already in the next two to three weeks.
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