In the parliamentary elections held in Poland on Sunday, the ruling conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) secured a simple majority in the 460-member lower house of the parliament, the Sejm. The PiS won 235 seats and 43.59% of the total votes polled. The main opposition bloc, the Civic Coalition, led by the liberal Civic Platform (PO) party, won 27.4% of the votes and 134 seats. The leftist coalition, Lewica, which comprises the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Spring (Wiosna) and Lewica Razem, registered a major breakthrough by winning 49 seats with 12.56% of the vote share.
The victory of the PiS marks the success of its strategy of combining Euro-skepticism, anti-austerity policies and a far-right wing agenda on social issues. Progressive movements in Poland have a long struggle ahead though the presence of the left in parliament and the ruling party’s inability to maintain control of the upper house, the Senate, offers hope. Speaking to Peoples Dispatch, a representative of the Spring party said, “We are really pleased with the amount of votes we got in these elections and we are really glad that the socialists are back in the Sejm. We believe that the opposition might win against PiS in the presidential elections”.
The Jarosław Kaczyński-led PiS ran an ultra-nationalist and conservative campaign with anti-Russian, anti-communist and anti-LGBT rhetoric. This, along with stability of the previous government and its anti-austerity policies, helped the party win.
The PiS won the support of the conservative sections of the Catholic Church and its adherents by portraying itself as a champion of traditional moral values. Its base has been fortified by an concerted homophobic campaign against the LGBTQ community in Poland. Conservative sections of Polish society have rallied behind this campaign, with Kaczynski himself being notorious for his virulent comments against the LGBT community. This has created a situation where violent homophobic attacks take place frequently against sexual minorities in Poland.
The conservative government also targeted and initiated prosecution against activists and leaders of the Communist Party of Poland (KPP), and its publication, Brzask, thus winning the support of the ant-communist, anti-Russian, hyper-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups in the country. In 2017, Poland’s parliament, dominated by the PiS, ratified amendments to the country’s de-communization law, permitting the demolition of Soviet-era monuments, including memorials in honor of the Red Army that liberated much of eastern Europe from Nazi occupation.
Notably, the PiS cashed in on its anti-austerity policies through social spending on families. The party promised an improved and inclusive health care system and an increase in the minimum wage. PiS’s increased welfare spending and flagship programs, including the child benefit program 500+ which gives families 500 zloty (£100) a month per child, along with the hike in minimum wages and pension reforms, increased the popularity of the government and consolidated its base. Its Euro-skepticism won the support of the majority of Polish citizens who perceive the European Union (EU) as the harbinger of austerity.
The austerity policies pursued by the post-Soviet liberal governments in Poland had a disastrous effect on common citizens and the working class. The promises by these parties to ‘liberate’ Poland from the Soviet hangover, and to integrate the country into the European Union, failed miserably.
The PiS also clashed with the EU on the issue of judicial reforms. In 2018, the government passed an order to cut short the term of nearly a third of the country’s Supreme Court judges by reducing their retirement age. It was alleged that the move was an attempt to purge liberals and Soviet sympathizers from the judiciary, to replace them with pro-PiS judges. The government order drew widespread protests and criticism. Later in July, 2018, the European Commission announced that an infringement procedure had been launched against the Polish government for its decision. A formal notice has been served to Warsaw, with the government’s response being expected in a month’s time.
Despite the strong show of the PiS in the Sejm, the opposition in the country does have something to cheer about at the end of the polls. In the 100-member Polish Senate, the opposition, comprised of the Citizens’ Coalition (43 senators), the Christian democrats – Polish People’s Party (3 senators) and the center-left SLD (2 senators), along with three independents, have forged a unity alliance and secured a majority with 51 seats. The PiS lost 13 seats and is now reduced to 48 seats in the Senate with the backing of an independent. The loss of the majority in the upper house of the parliament may help delay and impede some of the PiS’ agenda.
The re-entry of the left into the Polish parliament has kindled hope among the progressive sections, including LGBT groups. Andrzej Słodyczka from the Equality Parade (Parada Równości) in Warsaw told Peoples Dispatch, “We are happy and full of hope having Lewica (the left-wing party) in Parliament, because they will represent our affairs and we will be more present in the public space.”