Tuesday

28th Nov 2023

Kaczyński loses grip on Poland after eight years

  • Polish ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński has held power since 2015 (Photo: pis.org.pl)
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Poland's nationalist-populist rulers lost twice over — in elections and in an anti-migrant referendum — on Sunday (15 October).

The Law and Justice (PiS) party, led by its chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, lost some 35 seats and its parliamentary majority, according to exit polls by Ipsos on Monday.

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PiS still won the most votes of any single party and Poland's president might ask it to try to form a new coalition.

But PiS has no king-making friends to link up with after the far-right Confederation party also did badly.

And even if it might take a few months to pin things down, the widely expected outcome is a coalition between the centre-right Civic Platform party of Donald Tusk, the centre-right Third Way party, and the left-wing Lewica party.

"This is the end of the bad times, this is the end of the PiS government," Tusk said at jubilant party rally in Warsaw.

"We won democracy, we won freedom, we won our free beloved Poland … this day will be remembered in history as a bright day, the rebirth of Poland," Tusk added.

Kaczyński said: "We have to have hope that regardless of whether we are in power or in opposition, our project will continue".

Tusk is a 66-year old former Polish prime minister and ex-EU Council president, who is well liked among EU officials.

Kaczyński is a 74-year old ultra-conservative on women's rights, LGBTI rights, and Muslim migrants. He is also known for anti-EU and anti-German tirades.

The EU has initiated a sanctions procedure against Poland and withheld billions in funding after saying Kaczyński's people had seized political control of the judiciary and attacked free media over their past eight years in power.

Kaczyński had tried to "create a Catholic state of the Polish nation" based on the "visions" of António Salazar and Francisco Franco, two far-right dictators in 1970s Portugal and Spain, Radek Sikorski, a prominent pro-Tusk MEP, previously told EUobserver.

The election turnout was over 72 percent — the highest figure since 1989, Poland's first post-Communist election, with more young people casting ballots than in 2019.

The Polish złoty rose in value on the back of Monday's results, as markets embraced the business-friendly Tusk.

"Very good news from Poland. The Polish people came out massively to open a new era for the country," said Manfred Weber, the German leader of the centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament.

And the PiS defeat dealt a blow to other illiberal and populist leaders in Europe, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán or Slovak prime minister Robert Fico, who would have seen Kaczyński as a natural ally going into the 2024 EU elections.

Referendum flop

Kaczyński had also organised a referendum on Sunday designed to lock in Poland against EU proposals to reform the way the bloc shares asylum seekers.

"Are you in favour of admitting thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, in line with the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?", one of its loaded questions said.

But this PiS project also flopped because only 40 percent of voters bothered to turn out for the plebiscite, which had a threshold of 50 percent.

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