The results of parliamentary polls in Poland come as no surprise. PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s policies aimed at “ordinary folks” have made the party a force for years to come, says DW’s Bartosz Dudek.
For the most part, the remarkably high election result for the PiS — almost 44% compared to 37.6% four years ago — is a reward for the previous government’s generous welfare policy. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his team have succeeded in luring mainly voters from the smaller towns and villages, people who felt they had been left behind by the painful transformations of the past and had fallen by the wayside. A boost in child benefits, a 13th and 14th pension payment per year, a tax exemption for people under the age of 26 and an increase in minimum wage for all employees — presented in a patriotic cloak, these political promises were consistently implemented. That was Kaczynski’s cure-all for this election, and it worked out.
The conservative social populists’ resounding victory would be unthinkable without the support of the powerful Catholic Church. The alliance of “throne and altar” is bound to continue, and the return of the anti-clerical left is a response. But such alliances can have fatal consequences for the church in the long run, experience from other Catholic-majority countries like Spain has shown.
At the same time, Kaczynski’s success is a slap in the face of the opposition Civic Platform, which failed to come up with a new set of politicians and a revamped program after the 2015 election defeat. That has now backfired.
Bitter consequences for democracy
The renewed PiS victory might also have bitter consequences for democracy and the rule of law in Poland. There is widespread concern that Poland will become an “illiberal” democracy and a semi-authoritarian state. The first four years of the PiS government have shown that Poland’s real ruler, Kaczynski, is striving to subordinate independent institutions such as courts and the media. His confrontational and polarizing political style makes compromises with the opposition, who are part of democratic culture, impossible. That is the reason for an increasingly bitter dispute that could have dangerous consequences.
The strong voter mandate for PiS means that Poland will continue to be a difficult partner for both the EU and Germany. Should the PiS, press ahead with judicial and media reform like it promised during the campaign, there will certainly be disputes with the European Commission. Demands for WWII reparations from Germany are also included in the election program; the German government must show empathy and also find an answer that goes beyond the usual “the matter is closed.”
One thing is clear — both Germany and the EU will have to resign themselves to an uncomfortable and contentious government in Poland for another four years.