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29th Feb 2024

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.

Analysis

Poland's biggest election since 1989

This Sunday Poles head to vote in the most consequential parliamentary elections since the partially-free elections in 1989 that turned a Soviet satellite state into a burgeoning democracy. Here is what's at stake.

Opinion

Poland's democracy is so eroded, it needs full election monitors

Since 2015 elections in Poland have been free but not fair. The OSCE found that the ruling Law & Justice party's exploitation of state-media and public funds for campaigning "amplified its advantage" during the previous 2019 parliamentary election.

Polish truck protest at Ukraine border disrupts war supplies

Disruption at the Polish-Ukrainian border by disaffected Polish truckers is escalating, potentially affecting delivery of military aid to Ukraine. A Polish request to reintroduce permits for Ukrainian drivers has been described as "a shot to the head" during war.

Investigation

Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

In a fractious parliamentary vote, the level of party discipline often decides the fate of legislation. Party discipline among nationalists and far-right MEPs is the weakest, something potentially significant after the June elections. Data by Novaya Gazeta Europe and EUobserver.

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