The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), in power since 2015, won 43.6 % of the votes in Poland’s parliamentary elections last Sunday (13 October).
It gained an absolute majority in the lower house of the Parliament, the Sejm, but lost its majority in the Senate where it received 48 of the 100 seats.
PiS benefited from the Polish electoral law which grants a bonus to the party which receives most votes to facilitate stable governments. With a renewed mandate, PiS is expected to become a strong player at EU level.
According to the final figures from the Polish National Electoral Commission, PiS received 239 seats of the 460 seats in the Sejm, followed by the pro-European Civic Coalition (134 seats), the pro-European Left (49 seats), the pro-European Polish Coalition (30 seats), and the Eurosceptic Confederation (11 seats). Voter turnout was only 61.7 %.
In an analysis of the election results, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) explains that the success of PiS stems from its generous welfare state policies, the fulfilment of promises made in 2015, and a strong national economy. PiS also used state structures, such as public TV, for electoral purposes.
Although PiS reconfirmed its dominance, it still faces considerable opposition according to ECFR. Three democratic opposition parties gained almost 50 percent of the votes. PiS has also a competition on the right side: the far-right Confederation received almost 7 percent of the votes and managed to get into the Parliament.
PiS supporters are also 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 the handling of public finances, are not widely held across Polish society. While PiS dominates the political scene, the country remains deeply divided.
In the past mandate period, PiS carried out reform measures which were seen by the EU as threats against the independence of the courts. Poland may face future problems if the on-going discussions in this week’s European Council on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021 – 2027 will result in a decision on linking budget allocations to Member States to their respect of the rule of law.
Pawel Zerka, a Policy Fellow and Senior Coordinator on European Power at ECFR, added that the 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.”
Asked by The Brussels Times if relations between Poland and the new European Commission will deteriorate, he replied that it was not likely, since PiS will try to present itself as constructive and the President-elect Ursula von der Leyen might prefer to cool down the dispute with Poland on checks and balances in society. Warsaw’s support for her policies will be important.
On a positive note, the election campaigns were dominated by social issues. Anti-Semitism, which in the past years seemed to have re-emerged, did not play any role in the campaigns.