October 13, 2019
The right-wing nationalist party Law and Justice (PiS) won the elections with 43.6% of the vote (235 seats) in the Sejm (lower house), securing a mandate to form a new government. The main opposition party the Civic Coalition gained 27.4% of the vote (134 seats). Together with the Left’s support of 12.6% and the Polish Coalition’s support of 8.6%, the three pro-European parties gained nearly half of the Polish votes with a total of 48.6%. The new right-wing party Confederation Freedom and Independence reached 6.8% of the vote, entering the Sejm with 11 seats.
However, after having controlled both the lower house and the senate for the past four years, PiS lost control of the latter, receiving 49 seats against 51 seats for the opposition. The senate doesn’t enjoy as much power as the Sejm, but it can delay legislation as well as influence the appointment of key officials. The loss of an absolute majority in the senate may complicate the realization of PiS’s conservative agenda and may slow the passage of the party’s key legislation as well as undermine the efforts to control key appointments. On November 8, PiS announced the lineup for its governing cabinet. Mateusz Morawiecki will continue on as prime minister as the government looks to increase its control over state-owned companies.
- Bicameral legislature in a semi-presidential constitutional republic; National Assembly is composed of the Senate (upper house) and the Sejm (lower house).
- Lower house has 460 members elected for 4-year terms in 41 multi-member constituencies through open-list proportional system; Senate has 100 members elected for 4-year terms in single-member constituencies, plurality vote (first past the post); parties must gain 5% of the vote to enter parliament.
- The President (directly elected for 5 years) selects the Prime Minister, usually from the party that won the last election; the PM and their appointed cabinet must win a vote of confidence in the Sejm.
- Incumbent: PM Mateusz Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda both hail from the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), which has a majority of seats in the Sejm (after winning 37.6% of the vote in 2015) within a right-wing coalition (218 for PiS, 241 total) and in the Senate on their own (61 seats).
- Law and Justice (PiS) : right-wing nationalistic party, led by Polish MP Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has signaled he will retire after this election; socially conservative; interventionist economic policy; supports a “majoritarian democracy” where the winning political forces are not constrained by institutions and ruling norms; Euroskeptic/anti-German, engaged in legal proceedings with the EU over dramatic changes to the Polish supreme court and independent judicial system; strongly pro-U.S. and pro-NATO.
- Civic Coalition (KO) : centrist, big-tent party; mix of liberalism and social democracy; coalition of the Civic Platform (center-right party), Modern Party (center), and the Greens (left-leaning); aims to protect liberal democracy in Poland, opposes PiS’s changes to democratic institutions; pro-EU; pro-NATO.
- The Left (Lewica) : left-wing; social democracy; socially liberal; coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance, Spring (center-left), and Lewica Razem (left); pro-EU; pro-NATO.
- Polish Coalition (KP) : center to center-right; Christian democracy; agrarian and regionalist factions; coalition of Polish People’s Party (agrarian, center-right), Kukiz’15 (catch-all party, anti-system), and smaller parties; moderately pro-EU; pro-NATO.
- Confederation Freedom and Independence (Konfederacja) : right to far-right; nationalist party; coalition of libertarian, Christian, and right-wing parties; anti-EU; supports a national security policy based on alliances but also self-sufficiency.
Impact on U.S. Interests
- Poland is the sixth-largest economy in the European Union and the only EU country that avoided recession after the 2008-9 economic crisis; GDP growth reached 5.1% in 2018 and is forecasted at 4.3% for 2019; in 2017, U.S. FDI into Poland reached $12.6 billion.
- Poland, a NATO member that spends 2% of its GDP on defense, hosts the NATO Multinational Corps and Division Northeast Headquarters, a NATO enhanced Forward Presence battalion, approximately 4,500 U.S. troops on a rotational basis, and a missile defense interceptor system, which will be operational in 2020. Poland also contributes over 300 troops to the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and has contributed military assistance to Ukraine.
- Under the PiS-led government, Poland’s democratic standards have been degraded across the board according to U.S. NGO Freedom House, from the independence of the courts (through reforms that “ abolish separation of powers”) to media freedom. The EU has initiated proceedings that could lead to the suspension of Poland’s voting rights in EU institutions and is considering budget reforms that would reduce EU funds available to Poland due to its rule of law violations.
Key Issues to Watch
- Despite growing anger and frustration regarding PiS’s challenge to democratic institutions and norms, Polish opposition parties have been unable to rally under a common umbrella in the last few months. Their alliance in the European Parliament elections in May, in which observers thought the opposition would do well, did not yield strong results. PiS has dominated online campaigning over all other parties. Automated bots have at times spread misinformation and conspiracy theories. Thanks to its popular government spending programs and political domination (including of the airwaves), PiS will likely increase its majority in this election.
- One of the reasons the opposition is not faring well is the strength of Poland’s economy, which has been one of the best performing in the EU for the past several years. PiS has redistributed wealth, increased subsidies and reduced taxes, particularly for rural and conservative communities, which has been extremely popular.
- The PiS-led government announced in September that it would almost double the minimum wage if it won the election, and it would transfer more economic power and control to the state. The government has already replaced CEOs of state-owned companies with others who are considered loyal to PiS. PiS officials have also discussed the possibility of changing the constitution and “re-Polonizing” the media.
- Increased Polish-EU tensions stand in stark contrast to the enhanced U.S.-Polish relationship. President Duda and President Trump have met frequently; Poland has recently announced it would purchase advanced U.S. fighter aircraft worth $6.5 billion; and the U.S. administration recently announced that Poland could join the Visa Waiver Program, a major decision that has long been an irritant in the bilateral relationship. Both events will give a boost to the PiS government on the eve of the Polish elections.
- PiS’s long-term leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s relinquishment of party leadership after the election could trigger an internal leadership battle among the party’s factions. It is unclear whether the party can be as powerful and unified without him.
Data source: Politico Poll of Polls.
* Polling for PO until August
** Polling for SLD + Razem + Wosnia until August
*** Polling for Kukiz’15 + PSL until August