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Poland: the Left will be a real threat to PiS’ hegemony

Aleks Polaks
Human rights activist and a social journalist.

The Polish Left is back in parliament and its decisive stance on social policy makes it a much clearer threat to the governing Law and Justice party than the centre-right opposition from the Civic Platform has ever been.

During this year’s parliamentary elections in Poland, the registered turnout (61.74%) was the highest since 1989 (62%). The number of votes cast for opposition parties (8 958 824) was higher than for the Law and Justice Party (PiS) (43,59%, 8 051 935), but as a result of the D’Hondt method of distribution of seats, PiS eventually won 235 out of 460 seats. 11 deputies obtained seats from the lists of the far-right, pro-Putin party “Confederation” (6,81%, 1,255,953 votes), who may be willing to support some conservative projects of the ruling party. At the same time, PiS improved its 2015 result when it obtained 5,711,687 votes (37.58% with a turnout of 50.92%), maintaining its representation at the same number as after the 2015 elections. All this means that opposition to PiS governments is large, but not large enough to remove them from power.

The democratic opposition took part in elections in three blocks: the Civic Coalition of the liberal “Modern” party, the liberal conservative Civic Platform and the Greens won 27.40% of the vote (134 seats in parliament), the Democratic Left Alliance – with members of the “Spring” and the “Together” party on its electoral lists – 12.56% (49 MPs), and Polish People’s Party – 8.55% (30 MPs).

At the same time, to the upper house of the Polish parliament, the Senate, where the First-past-the-post electoral law applies, the democratic opposition obtained fewer votes (7,406,241) and more seats (52/100) than PiS (48/100 senators – 8,110,119 votes).

The largest opposition party has lost support in the last 4 years. The politicians responsible for the failure of the Civic Platform (EPP) of 2015 were not removed from their party functions. Due to the weakness of the largest opposition party in the last term of the Sejm, the Left and the Polish People’s Party were strengthened. Both smaller opposition parties have elected new leaders who successfully mobilised voters in high turnout conditions.

During the parliamentary election in 2015, PiS-leader Jarosław Kaczyński’s high rates of unpopularity forced stay in the shadow and introduce new leaders, remaining in a position of power from the back seat. The leader of the largest opposition party, Grzegorz Schetyna – who is also definitely not the leader of the polls – tried to repeat the same move by proposing the candidacy of Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska as Prime Minister. However, the short election campaign prevented the successful promotion of the new opposition leader.

The Civic Platform did not present any coherent vision of Poland. Research indicates that while PiS voters vote for this party because they believe their fate will improve and Left voters because they agree with leftist values, Civic Platform voters vote for this party mainly because of their hatred for PiS. At the same time, most voters cannot determine whether the Civic Platform is a left-wing or a right-wing party.

Meanwhile, PiS, by using social transfers, strengthened its support in the poorest parts of the country. Since PiS took power in 2015, the GINI coefficient of (in)equality in Poland has been decreasing. This may be due to, among others, granting a universal social benefit for the second and subsequent children of PLN 500 (€ 169) regardless of income.

Furthermore, PiS gained significant support among the pensioners: the party represents conservative moral views and they introduced the thirteenth month of pension. in 2019, almost a quarter of a million people receive a pension lower than the official “minimum”, which stands at PLN 934 PLN (€220).

Benefits are financed at the expense of, for example, the health care system. Increasingly, people pay their health expenses with the money they receive as social benefits which contributes to privatising the health care system. The policy of financing social benefits while in return underfunding of public services equals to the privatising the state.
From this point of view, the return of the left to the Polish parliament is a great threat to Law and Justice. Kaczyński’s party, still maintaining hegemony on the conservative right, will have a competitor in the field of social policy, whose postulates and attractiveness of program will be more difficult to counteract than in the case of the Civic Platform.

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