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Poland’s October 13, 2019 Parliamentary Elections A Before and After Look

By October 27, 2019November 12th, 2022No Comments11 min read

Frank J. Dmuchowski

The results of the recent Parliamentary elections in Poland along with challenging relations with the European Union promises that politics in Poland over the next four years will be even more interesting than the prior four.

To aid in developing a deeper insight into Poland’s future, I have identified two very well written two articles. One is from the American publication the New York Times which appeared just before the election. The second article appeared in the European edition on the web site of the well-respected, POLITICO on October 15, 2019. (POLITICO is an American political journalism company based in Arlington Virginia).
The content of the two articles cited above has been substantially abridged for this article. Every attempt has been made to keep the authors perspective as accurately as possible although there were topics, especially is the NYT article, which showed important broader domestic and EU concerns with PiS and it’s leader Jarosław Kaczynski.
NB (My comments within the presentation of the two articles are in parentheses). As stated above there are other topics and details pursued in the two articles which for reason of space have not been mentioned. You are encouraged to read the full presentation of each article. This is especially valuable for those readers who are not familiar with Poland’s politics.
New York Times:—In Poland Nationalism with a Progressive Touch Wins Voters.

The full article appeared in the NYT on October 10 2019 and was updated on October 14 2019. The article was written by Marc Santora with a contribution by Joanna Berendt in Zamosć. The article which appeared as Poland’s Top Party Reaches Voters Where IT Counts: Their Pocket Books.
“Kowalczyk Family- as an Example of the Success of Kaczyński’s Economic Policy
ZAMOSC, Poland — Four years ago, Agnieszka and Adam Kowalczyk were struggling. They both had full-time jobs — she as a teacher and he as an electrician — yet month after month they found themselves falling deeper into debt.
So when Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his Law and Justice Party promised voters that they would introduce a generous infusion of cash for families with children, the Kowalczyks figured they would give them a chance — even if they were deeply skeptical.
“I didn’t really believe they would deliver on their promises,” he said.
“They were the lesser of two evils,” his wife added.

Law and Justice not only kept its promise, but it also set out on the most radical overhaul of the economy in a generation — one that has built a floor under low- and middle-income families and proved wildly popular with voters like the Kowalczyks. (NB Kowalczyk’s have two sons over 18 and her mother who also benefitted significantly from the Kaczyński/PiS economic program)
As Poles vote again this Sunday, that social welfare model lies at the heart of the success of Law and Justice. The party’s unusual blend of nationalist appeals and progressive policy has given it a unique place in Europe and helps explain why most polls show that it is likely to hang onto power.
Why PiS and leader Jarosław Kaczyńaki Might Be Considered a Political Trailblazers
But within Poland, the party has succeeded not merely by playing to the conservatism of its rural and small-town base, but also by attempting to redistribute wealth, so far without the budget-busting giveaways that often accompany populism.

These guys are trailblazers in showing that you can marry a kind of right-wing populism with left-wing economic politics,” said Mitchell A. Orenstein, chairman of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Orenstein, who has criticized the authoritarian drift of the government, said it would be a mistake to dismiss what the party was doing economically.
“What’s impressive about this government is not only how they increased social spending in ways that are universal, but also hit their constituency,” he said. “And they have done it while keeping their deficit low, and they are actually trying to balance the budget.”
The government has not only expanded the child credit program — which now provides a monthly stipend of around $125 for every child in a family — it has increased pension payments and eliminated taxes for people under 26.

The prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, in an interview this summer at his offices in Warsaw, defended the spending and said it was part of a project to reshape Polish society.
“The changes we started four years ago were fundamental and quite revolutionary,” Mr. Morawiecki said. “It was a revolution in the economy, in terms of social policy, redistribution, if you want, of goods and services and money, and the promise to do more. To repair all the flaws from the post-Communist era.”
It is the animating idea of the Law and Justice party: that the peaceful transition to democracy was fundamentally flawed and benefited an elite class that included former Communists.
Lech Kaczyński, the leader of PiS and (the principal architect of PiS’s economic policy) has said
A person whose pockets are empty is not really free,”
When he announced plans to raise the minimum wage, he declared an end to the “post-colonial concept of Poland as a source of cheap labor.”

He has cited a book by the French economist Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” as an important window into his thinking.
( NB note Tygodnik Polski reported this in 2016 in an article which I wrote. The information regarding Kaczyński’s admiration and importance of Piketty’s theory for Poland first appeared in February 2016 in the Financial Times interview with him by Henry Foy. Mr Piketty’s book –available in Polish French, English, etc is perhaps the most influential economic book of the 21’st century. Mr Kacyński made this book required reading for all of his direct associates who became leaders in Poland’s government in 2016. From the book-which I highly recommend- Kaczyński developed and implemented a core economic policy that led to substantially reducing economic inequality in Poland. Particularly among PiS supporters who did not see any significant benefit to Donald Tusk and PO’s economic policy which seemed to be based on a trickle-down approach. Simply stated Kacyński was able to reduce economic equality by using a trickle-up strategy)
But Mr. Piketty, in response to an email query, said that Mr. Kaczynski and his party, known as PiS for its initials in Polish, were not true champions of greater economic equality.
“The ruling party has been able to attract lower and middle-class voters that were disillusioned by previous governments and the high level of inequality in the country,” he wrote. “But in the end PiS is mostly driven by its nationalist ideology, and does not really care about the reduction of social inequalities.’’
For many voters, however, the government’s economic policies have changed their daily reality, especially in the country’s underdeveloped east.
POLITICO: Writers Analysis of Polish Politics after 2016 Parliamentary Election – Challenges for Poland and PiS
This analysis of the possible implications for Poland and Polish politics was written by Polish politics was written Jan Cienski and Zosia Wanat after the recent parliamentary elections. It appeared on the POLITICO Europe website on October 15, 2019. It represents a very perceptive report. This article in Tygodnik presents an abridged version of the original which is very well worth reading.
As the vote count trickled in over the course of Monday, it ended up showing that the opposition managed to narrowly take control of the 100-seat upper house, the senate.
Law and Justice (PiS) will form a government — it won 43.59 percent of the vote, giving it 235 seats, a majority of five in the 460-seat Sejm, the more powerful lower chamber. But Kaczyński now faces something new. For the first time in four years, the opposition controls an institution that could cause him problems in getting his agenda enacted.
Here are five takeaways from a more-interesting-than-expected Polish parliamentary election:

1. The senate suddenly gains in importance
The Senate has long been ignored as a significant part of the legislature. But on Monday, when the opposition took control of 51 seats compared to 49 for PiS, Poles scrambled to figure out just what it can do.
The senate is less powerful than the Sejm. It can delay and amend legislation, but the Sejm can override such moves with an absolute majority. However, the senate also has a say in nominating many key officials, which will undermine PiS’s attempts to put all government institutions under its control.
It will be much more difficult with an opposition-controlled upper house.

2. Politics gets more complicated
When PiS took power in 2015, the opposition was in shock. The centrist Civic Platform party, founded by European Council President Donald Tusk and which ruled Poland from 2007 to 2015, was in disarray. Its coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party (PSL), barely scraped over the 5 percent threshold to take seats in parliament.
The left-wing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) failed to win any seats at all and a couple of newly created parties, led by inexperienced leaders and filled with novice MPs, didn’t provide much of a challenge to Kaczyński.
However, the makeup of the new parliament is much more difficult for him. Civic Platform — now the lead member of the Civic Coalition — is still the largest opposition party, taking 27.4 percent of the vote for 134 seats.
But the SLD is back as part of a larger grouping called the Left that took 12.56 percent for 49 seats. It plans to challenge PiS’s right-wing policies by aiming to loosen Poland’s restrictive abortion laws, weaken the role of the powerful Roman Catholic Church, and promote gay rights.
The Left also plans to push its own generous social welfare policies.
“Jarosław Kaczyński has a problem because the Sejm will have a brave opposition that wants to fight,” said Adrian Zandberg, leader of the Razem (Together) party that is part of the left-wing coalition.
PSL is back with 8.55 percent support, enough for 30 seats.
PiS also faces something new — a challenger on the right. That’s something Kaczyński has long tried to avoid, but in this election, the Confederation, a grouping of ultra-nationalists, took 6.81 percent of the vote, giving it 11 seats.

3. A presidential election is the next big fight
President Andrzej Duda’s five-year term expires in 2020, and all sides are gearing up for a bruising battle.
Duda was a surprise winner in 2015, as he’d been plucked from obscurity as an MEP by Kaczyński. But controlling the presidency was key to Kaczyński’s radical reforms program — allowing him to take control of the judiciary and pass legislation with little fear of it getting vetoed.
Losing the presidency would be a disaster for PiS.
But Duda won’t be easy to beat. He’s a good retail politician, devoting enormous time and energy to cultivating voters in the smaller towns and villages that form the core of PiS’s support.

4. PiS will have a tougher time with the budget
PiS took power in 2015 at the height of a global economic boom. That allowed the party to carry out its generous social spending promises without destroying the country’s budget. It brought in child payments of 500 złoty (€115) a month, lowered the retirement age and scrapped income taxes for those under 26.
Despite that, next year’s budget is set to be the first in Polish history with no deficit.
A lot of that spending was covered by Poland’s rapid economic growth and by closing tax loopholes — a method that the government is determined to stick to.
“We’re controlling public finances, we’ve radically improved their condition, and we’ll keep doing it,” Kaczyński said after the election.
Those programs helped cement voter loyalty, and the party made even more expensive promises this time around. It pledged extra pensions, lower social security payments for small companies, a boost in health care spending and to steeply increase the minimum wage.
But tougher times loom.
One of the main goals for PiS in the next term is to maintain the current levels of EU funds, and it rejects the current budget proposed by the European Commission. But with Brexit cuts and possible mechanisms to link subsidies to the rule of law, any increase in funds for Poland seems unlikely.
Few economists predict that Poland will fall into a recession, but even a slower pace of growth could cause big fiscal problems for PiS.

5. Continued friction with the EU
The PiS government’s deep changes to the legal system frayed relations with the EU, prompting the Commission to file cases with the Court of Justice of the European Union. It also launched an Article 7 procedure against Poland for violating the bloc’s democratic rules.
There’s also growing pressure from net-paying countries to put tougher budgetary conditions on law-breaking members.
“It’s imperative to put into place the rule of law mechanism, ensuring the protection of the Union’s budget in case of generalized deficiencies in member states,” said Johannes Hahn, the future budget commissioner (of the European Union)””
Tygodnik Article Conclusion
Politics in Poland is going to become even more interesting as there is a clear divide in the country between those who did and did not most directly benefit from the economic policy of PiS. There is also the controversial policies of PiS toward different social groups whose philosophy differs significantly from those of the Catholic Church. There are other issues that are developed in the above-cited articles.
Let me close with the observation, not developed in the NYT article POLITICO article, that PiS and Kaczyński appear to have moved closer to the middle because of the strong showing of the independent ultra-nationalist Political party, Confederation, which is clearly to the right of PiS, received 6.8% of the popular vote and 11 seats in the Sejm but no seats in the Senate. The Senate is where the real political action in Poland will be in the next few years.
There is room for a good deal of interesting political maneuvering!