Espreso. Global

Ruling party's defeat in Poland means that forming anti-European alliance between Warsaw, Budapest, and Bratislava is now unlikely

17 October, 2023 Tuesday

The Eurosceptic stances of Hungary and Slovakia will face challenges, even if Fico manages to establish a stable government in his country, due to the Law and Justice (PiS) party's loss in the Polish parliamentary elections

The results of counting over 60% of the votes in Poland's parliamentary elections confirm that the earlier exit polls, initially proposed immediately after polls closed and later validated by more precise data, were accurate.

The Law and Justice party, the current ruling party, secured the most votes in these elections. However, it's clear they won't be able to establish a new Polish government. The exit polls indicate that the democratic opposition, formed by three coalitions (the civic coalition led by the Civic Platform party, the Third Way coalition, and the left), is expected to gain approximately 249 seats. This aligns with the vote count results, which show that this number of seats is what the democratic opposition can secure based on the final election results for the Polish Diet.

The Law and Justice party lacks sufficient votes to form a majority government. Additionally, the far-right confederations, who ended up at the bottom in these elections, have already declined any coalition talks with both the Law and Justice party and the civil coalition. Therefore, it's likely that after an anticipated but unsuccessful attempt by the Law and Justice party to form a new government in Poland, the initiative will shift to the party with the second-largest number of votes, the Civil Coalition, led by the prominent European politician, former Prime Minister of Poland, and former European Council chairman, Donald Tusk. He will establish Poland's first centrist government in the past challenging eight years.

One could argue that the right-wing populists' defeat was indirectly acknowledged by their leader, former Prime Minister of Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński. During his speech on this night, he pledged that if the Law and Justice party remained in power or found itself in the opposition, it would continue to uphold its ideals. Unlike some of his associates, Kaczyński thus implicitly admitted that the Law and Justice party didn't emerge as the victor but rather lost in the parliamentary elections in Poland.

Most Poles want a change in government to bring Poland back into Europe. The new Polish government will have to make significant adjustments in both foreign and domestic policies to restore Poland's position in Europe. This means regaining its status as a key Central European nation and its reputation as a stronghold of democracy in the region, which it held before the Law and Justice party came to power.

The past eight years have been tough for Poland. Many have compared it to Viktor Orbán's Hungary, its neighboring country. They warned that if right-wing populists secure another term, Poland's urbanization progress will stall, and it may lose its important role and capabilities.

After the rule of the Law and Justice party, Poland requires comprehensive healing. This includes fixing its judicial system, which has faced criticism from the European Commission and other European nations that want to see Poland return to an independent judiciary. Poland also needs to address its public media, which, in the past eight years, has become a government mouthpiece rather than a voice for the people. In fact, the rare occurrence of opposition leaders appearing on public broadcaster TVP Info on the night of the elections, when it seemed the Law and Justice party was losing, was seen as a political miracle. This demonstrates that in Poland, the usual standards of democracy in public broadcasting, which are standard in most European countries, have been neglected.

They will need to address the situation in relations with Ukraine. The past eight years have been marked by a continuous crisis in Polish-Ukrainian relations. Russia's attack on Ukraine compelled Polish leaders, particularly Andrzej Duda, to shift away from the familiar rhetoric aimed at the supporters of the Law and Justice and Confederation parties. This shift also required a reevaluation of the associated political actions that had defined key aspects of cooperation between the two neighboring countries, focusing on historical memory.

Putin's attack made it clear that our primary concern should be the future, which could pose risks not only for Ukraine but also for Poland. Ordinary citizens of Poland, especially those who extended their support to our compatriots fleeing from Putin's war, understood this better than the Polish authorities. The people of Poland made significant efforts to demonstrate their country as a crucial ally of Ukraine on the global stage.

However, the last few months of a divisive and unethical election campaign have cast doubt on these achievements. This was primarily due to issues in the supply of Ukrainian agricultural products to the Polish market and the apparent disregard by the Polish government under the leadership of Mateusz Morawiecki, a prominent figure in the Law and Justice party, for the commitments made during negotiations with Ukraine and the European Commission. The government's actions, which appeared to undermine established agreements with Kyiv and Brussels, were justified as the protection of national interests. In reality, it seemed to be aimed solely at courting the far-right Confederation party's electorate. There are now discussions about the political downfall of Morawiecki and speculations that Kaczynski won't choose him as his successor.

The Law and Justice party made a miscalculation. They attracted some very conservative right-wing voters from the Confederation party, but in doing so, they lost the more moderate voters who have traditionally supported them. This jeopardizes their future as a national party.

Pro-European groups in Poland now have a real opportunity. They can bring Poland back into the European fold and improve Ukrainian-Polish relations. These relations are important today, especially as Europe and Ukraine work together after the war. Poland's return to Europe can also lead to positive changes within the EU, which will help Ukraine integrate more quickly into Europe.

The failure of the Polish right-wing parties means that the creation of an anti-European alliance involving Warsaw, Budapest, and Bratislava is unlikely. Leaders like Kaczynski, Orban, and Fico, who wants to become Slovakia's prime minister, won't be able to form a strong coalition. The influence of Hungary and Slovakia will be weakened by the Law and Justice party's defeat.

We can hope that the European Union will handle the rise of anti-EU sentiments in our region. When Ukraine becomes an EU member, strong cooperation between Ukraine and Poland can help establish a powerful Central European bloc of new democracies, playing a significant role in Europe. Poland's role in this union will be essential, a role that might have been overlooked if we were still considering the Law and Justice party's chances of forming the Polish government.

Specially for Espreso

About the author. Vitaly Portnikov, journalist, laureate of the Shevchenko Prize

The editors do not always share the opinions expressed by the blog authors. 

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