Parliamentary elections in Poland

The Law&Justice has been also extremely efficient in evoking fears and exploiting uncertainties, also among the undecided and the hesitant.

Executive Director, Amicus Europae Foundation of Aleksander Kwaśniewski

The final results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Poland are well known: the national populistic Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, building up on national pride and close relations with the Roman Catholic Church, but drawing its strength mainly from very generous social transfers and even more limitless further promises, received slightly more than 8 million votes (43.6 per cent of votes casted) which resulted in 235 seats in the Sejm; it also got 49 (out of 100) Senators. Law and Justice has been also extremely efficient in evoking fears and exploiting uncertainties, also among the undecided and the hesitant.

At the same time, the whole democratic opposition – Civic Platform, the re-emerged Left, and the peasants’ and conservative (in the Christian Democratic way) People’s Party – got altogether 8.9 million of votes (900 thousands more than the Law&Justice), but since they ran separately it gave them only 213 seats in the Sejm; that is how the D’Hondt method for allocating seats works. The three parties won the election to the Senate, where they will have 51 representatives; but in the Polish system this chamber has a secondary role. 

To that end, the openly nationalistic, xenophobic and extremely liberal in economy ‘Confederation’ of a group of small organisations was supported by 6.8 per cent of voters. It is for the first time in post-war history that such a faction will appear in the Polish Parliament. 

When it comes to operationalising diverse policies, Law and Justice will continue to rule with a safe majority of 10 MPs, the totally co-operative President and a completely obedient Constitutional Court. The Senate may slow down the legislation but will be unable to change the course.

In this context, it can be anticipated that until next spring’s Presidential election the Law&Justice will not push for further radical changes of the political system. But if this party gets its candidate – whoever he or she will be – elected as the Head of State (with vast competences), the process of consolidating the power would probably speed up. It might encompass attempts to reshuffle the sphere of private media, to curb competences of local and regional authorities, to ‘complete the reform’ of the judiciary (i.e. to finally divert from the Constitutional principle of separation of powers and to undermine the independence of courts and judges), to amend the electoral law, to change the rules of financing political parties, to further suppress the NGOs, to steer culture by an appropriate channelling of the stream of money, to rewrite the contemporary history, etc. Viktor Orban’s Hungary shows that these methods result in a practical impossibility to change the ruling majority.

It is relevant to underline that foreign policy has not played a major role in the campaign, reflecting its present subordination to internal politics. Major changes in the conduct of foreign policy shall therefore not be expected. Poland will most probable still struggle with the European Commission i.a. on the issues of judicial reform, with further Strasbourg judgments behind the corner. New fields of conflict may emerge, as the ODIHR/OSCE has signalled in its post-election reports that “media bias and intolerant rhetoric in the campaign raised serious concerns”.

Therefore, I would also not expect other pillars of current foreign policy to be reshuffled, be it attempts to isolate Russia, emphasis on security policy, using history as a policy tool versus Germany and Ukraine. The “strategic partnership” with Trump’s Washington will be cemented by the expected decision to procure (omitting any serious negotiations or tenders) F-35 Lightening II combat aircrafts in a record-level contract with Lockheed Martin. It will be also bolstered by the long-awaited, symbolic decision to include Poland into the US Visa Waiver Program by the end of this year.

Having said that, the tactics of Law and Justice, however, may change, as the incumbent foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz may not find a place in the new, reshuffled government. In the end, the nomination of Czaputowicz, a quite non-political and experienced professional, was, in the words of Jarosław Kaczyńki, just “an experiment”. There are few names for his possible replacements, but none of them carries the charisma nor personal standing against the PiS leader to amend Poland’s foreign strategy. Rather, on the side of a new minister, a careful navigation should be expected around Jarosław Kaczyński’s expectations on foreign policy, and the role it should play in his overall political strategy until the presidential election in Poland in spring 2020.

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