Poland election: Voters give verdict on four years of right-wing populists

Voters in Poland will give their verdict on four years of populist government on Sunday, with the country’s ruling party expected to triumph again.

The right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015 promising a heady mixture of social conservatism and increased spending on the welfare state.

In the intervening years PiS has been criticised at home and abroad for undermining the rule of law, including politicising the courts system – but a stream of criticism from Brussels and human rights watchdogs seems to have done little to dent their poll ratings at home.

All polls suggest PiS will increase its vote share on 2015, with one recent survey by Kantar showing them on 43 per cent, far ahead of the nearest opposition party on 28 per cent.

PiS benefits from a fractured opposition split into centre-right liberal, leftist, and agrarian blocs. There is practically no doubt that it will poll first in Sunday’s elections – the question is whether it will be able to win a majority.

Pawel Zerka, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Independent that there could yet be an upset.

“Mobilisation of voters is the biggest unknown of these elections. On the face of it, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party looks set to win at least 231 seats – an absolute majority – in the country’s lower legislative chamber, the Sejm,” he said.

“But at the same time, PiS supporters seem to be much less motivated to vote than Poles who back the opposition.”

One poll commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations in early September found that just 49 per cent of PiS supporters are committed to voting, compared with between 70 and 75 per cent for the two main opposition blocs – suggesting turnout could be a deciding factor. 

The lack of enthusiasm for the ruling party despite their commanding lead also shows up in other figures. A poll conducted by Kantar at the beginning of October asked voters which scenario they preferred: an opposition victory, a PiS single-party government, or PiS having to rule with another party.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, speaks during the party’s campaign convention in Kielce (AFP Photo / Getty Images)

Just 34 per cent said they wanted PiS to govern alone, while 36 per cent said they wanted the opposition parties to win. Twenty-four per cent of voters said they preferred a PiS coalition with another party. 

But the split opposition means PiS is likely to triumph. Mr Zerka said a majority for the incumbent ruling party was still “the most probable scenario” but that other results should not be ruled out.

“Rather than seeking a coalition partner, [Jaroslaw] Kaczynski’s party [Law and Justice] may then try to recruit from other parties the few parliamentarians it would need to form a stable majority,”  said Mr Zerka. 

“But, at the same time, opposition parties might get an opportunity to build a counter-alternative.”

An opposition coalition could be difficult to build, especially if the agrarian peasants’ party and their anti-system allies win enough votes to enter the parliament. Such a coalition would have to stretch from social and economic liberals, through economic leftists, to social conservatives.

The left-wingers are expected to return to the parliament for the first time in four years, after having been wiped out at the last election. Various left-of-centre parties have formed a single group in order to maximise their chances of winning seats.

The latest voting intention poll by Kantar has PiS and its allies on 43 per cent, the centre-right liberal Civic Platform on 28 per cent, and the left-of-centre Lewica on 13 per cent. 

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