Democracy wins! Record turnout elections! The opposition has the advantage! Europe wins! Donald Tusk for prime minister! These sentences are somewhat similar to current political article titles. On the 15th of October, Polish voters went to the polls to decide the country's future. The day brought a head-to-head fight with the surprising success of the opposition.
A Bit of Structure
Given the length of this article, a bit of a walkthrough is needed to let people sway through it. In the beginning, we will look into the Polish political spectrum quickly, just for familiarity reasons. It is obviously not a complete analysis, just a thought opener. Later, I will talk about Donald Tusk and the challenges ahead of him. And to finish the article, I have conducted a survey to channel the expectations of the youth. Bear with me and enjoy the journey.
Even though the currently ruling PiS party won the majority of votes with 35.4%, it has no political allies to turn to, leading to the phenomenon of not being able to form a government. In light of the mathematical calculations, the opposition of the four parties is set to take the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament. If they maintain their alliance, Donald Tusk can retake office and lead Poland back to the connections to the European Union. But what effects does it have on the life of the country and the continent? What does the younger part of the population think about the results? And how quick is the transition going to be? These are the questions that I am going to try to answer, having the younger part of the population in focus.
What Does the Polish Political Spectrum Look Like?
Complicated. Blurry. Confusing. These words are not far away from the feelings I felt when I first started to analyse the political life of the Pols. In the recent past, there have been two central political powers. First, the Civil Platform (coalition: Civic Coalition) lead by Donald Tusk, who was PM between 2007 and 2014 just to leave and become President of the European Council until 2019. His party, and now his coalition, is described by liberal conservatism, leading a somewhat centrist right-wing politics to steer Poland back to the European Union. With the campaign program of legalising abortion and putting an end to corruption on the one hand, the coalition is supported by the youth and the pro-EU voters. On the other hand, the Law and Justice, led by Jarosław Kaczyński (prime minister: Mateusz Morawiecki), is a Christian right-wing party well-known for its hyper-conservative policies and anti-EU manners. The party won a majority in 2015 after Tusk left office and has been ruling since. The campaign program of anti-migration and child subsidies is supported mainly by the older population and the eastern part of the country. However, coming to the elections, the party was criticised for its corruption cases, which Tusk promised to investigate upon victory. Besides the two main groups, three other forms of political power proved essential this autumn.
Morawiecki (on the left) and Tusk (on the right), source: Forsal
The Left (Lewica) is a political alliance consisting of leftist parties, who are considered to be the most liberals in the country. With pro-LGBTQ+ ideas, they could only win over a smaller group of voters. However, their part seemed essential to forming a governing coalition.
Talking about forming a coalition, The Third Way, which was introduced exclusively for this election and consists of the parties Poland 2050 and the Polish People’s Party, won an even more significant advantage, leading to the opposition's success. The three powers combined won 53.7% of the votes, meaning they have the majority to form a government.
Source: National Electoral Commission
And lastly, the far-right group Confederation Freedom and Independence caused the current government to lose its mandate. The two parties combined did not reach the 50% needed to form a coalition, which on paper means that the opposition can take over. But only on paper, what does that mean?
Is Donald Tusk Indeed the New PM?
The answer is no. Even though Tusk is nominated as PM by the three groups, first, the president has a right to suggest a candidate. This is where things get interesting. Andrzej Duda, the president of the country, is an ex-member of the PiS party. This means that he can nominate, for example, Morawiecki without any legal blockade. The following steps are crucial to note: the president nominates a candidate, the parliament votes on whether to accept the nominee and if not, they select the new PM. It is still not decided who Duda will nominate, as he has 30 days to call the first parliamentary meeting after election day. This means that he can delay the transition of power for almost two months. Although there is a legal chance that Donald Tusk will not be able to take office, it is doubtful, as his coalition now has the majority in the parliament. However, starting his mandate, his time will have its ups and downs.
Challenges for Donald Tusk
Although the KO is said to be a liberal right-wing group, it is still different from its coalition member parties. The left is by far the most progressive organisation, which can lead to a misunderstanding between the members regarding LGBTQ+ and immigration policies. Furthermore, Donald Tusk’s original party did not hold a single majority in the parliament, which is already divided, leading to long and complex processing of policies and laws. The law-making process does not only have its limitations arising from the divided house, but also the president has a veto right, which can only be overruled by a 3/5 majority in the Sejm (lower house).
Moreover, Donald Tusk is considered a German-friendly politician, which is unpopular among the older population. With his strong connection to the EU and Ursula von der Leyen, he will never have the full support of the whole population or even most of it. Before the elections, the media tried to compose the idea of "Herr Tusk", focusing on his ties to Germany, which made him a symbol of all the wrongdoings of the West.
But, enough of the struggles, fallbacks, and boring facts, the highest turnout election brings high hope among the youngsters and the people who grew to be opposed to the hyper-conservative government. The following months will definitely be interesting both domestically and internationally.
KO for Corruption
Throughout the rule of PiS, the country experienced daily rumours of corruption and grey-area law-making. Countries in the region, including Poland, tend to allow for state-controlled media, corporations, and political organisations. However, Donald Tusk has pledged to bring down the shady individuals in the circle of the PiS. After firing the old officials, "we will conduct new recruitment in transparent competitions, in which competence, not family and party connections, will be decisive", says the KO political program. Furthermore, firings are not the significant changes to come. According to the new prime minister candidate, no one will be spared. They aim to learn from their mistakes in 2007 when they did not handle corruption strictly enough. This time, they say, jail is waiting for the ones who broke the Constitution and the rule of law. The opposition is now primarily focused on President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Morawiecki, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, and the governor of Central Bank Adam Glapiński. This might just be a political catch; however, it would make ruling easier for Donald Tusk. The main allegations are institutional corruption, mishandling of inflation, and the denial of swearing in state judges properly.
Lead the Way Captain: Europe
Donald Tusk has pledged to bring the country back to the EU. Since 2015, Poland has been one of the most prominent critics of the organisation, arguing with the migration laws and, most recently, the handling of the Ukrainian war. The former president of the European Commission campaigned for better connections with its neighbouring countries, breaking the misunderstanding between Ukraine and Poland and continuing the delivery of firearms. But is it only good for the country? No, Poland is one of the fastest growing economies, with a high population and a crucial market. Therefore, it would bring a considerable swing in continental cooperation. With Poland on the EU’s side, Hungary will be left alone as a straight critic and will most likely be forced to give in on some significant decisions. Moreover, cooperation with Germany can uplift Poland's economy even to a higher level, making the country indeed the most powerful economy in the Eastern European region. Besides financial advantages, Poland has one of the strongest militaries in the continent, which can also be a significant stressing point in the support of Ukraine.
It is not sure how the change in Poland will affect the EU. However, it can be said that Berlin, Kyiv, and Brussels can take a deep breath as their horse seems to be crossing the finish line. The record turnout of the election can also indicate a new generation with high political interest. A new generation sees the EU as a crucial institution which needs to keep up with the US and China to keep European countries on the right track. What is that track? And what did youngsters expect before the elections? Let us look into that.
Early Expectations and Hopes
Before the election on the 15th of October, I created a short survey, which was aimed at channelling the views and hopes of the youngsters both in Poland and outside the country. After creation, I posted it on my personal Instagram and LinkedIn accounts to make it reach as many individuals as possible. Some might say that it is slightly biased, which would be accurate; however, on the one hand, I did not intend to estimate the whole population’s expectations, and on the other hand, the aim was only to reach the younger part of society. It, in fact, turned out to be an accurate indicator of the youth, as 97.4 % of the survey-takers were between the ages of 18 and 25, with a 53% ratio of Polish individuals. The questions first aimed to collect information about the general political interest of youngsters, which then later was driven towards knowledge about the Polish political scenery. I also asked which party they think will win and which one they would vote for. The last two parts were aimed to focus on the two central powers, KO and PiS, and to learn about what aspects of the parties youngsters find desirable.
Surprisingly, no one indicated to be far not interested in politics, with a turnout of 48.7% being mildly interested and a shocking 33.3% being keen on politics. Of course, this survey mostly channels the opinion of university students. Still, the high number of politically invested individuals was unexpected.
According to the test, the majority indicated to know at least two parties in the country. And which one would they choose? Only 13.9% would have selected the currently governing PiS, which clearly indicated the popularity of the opposition. However, the significance of the ratio was not expected. It is a common scenario that youngsters always seek change, but almost 81% of support for Donald Tusk and his allies is far from conventional. Furthermore, the pessimistic view of the younger generation also proved itself. Besides clearly supporting the opposition, they indicated with a majority of 62.1% that the currently ruling PiS would win the most votes, which, with time, proved to be correct.
It is also vital to look into what youngsters want to see from a governing coalition. Through the question "Which aspect of the campaign of PiS/KO is most desirable for you?", most individuals showed that they prefer the legalisation of abortion and anti-corruption goals in the campaign of KO. Regarding the campaign of PiS, anti-migration activity with an increase in child subsidy programmes was the most essential for them. However, the most common answer for the latter was: "I don't find anything desirable in this campaign". This shows clearly that the PiS's majority in the final results were due to the support of the older population.
Is There Hope for a Higher Cooperation Between Eastern-Central European Countries?
The so-called V4 political alliance, consisting of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, has had better days. Since the start of the Russian–Ukrainian war, the group has stopped its strong cooperation since the Hungarian leadership did not promote help for Ukraine as vigorously as the other three countries. By this aspect, Hungary has shifted from Slovakia and the Czech Republic and remained in political alliance only with Poland. However, now that Poland has its new regime, Hungary has to make up with the whole organisation to not remain without any allies in the EU. It is often emphasised by political professionals that the V4 countries can only achieve power in Brussels if they cooperate and keep their strong connections. With Poland shifting closer to the EU, the ball is on Hungary's side. If the country led by Mr. Orbán gives in, the organisation of the continent can get back in the race with the US and China.
The record turnout election has clearly affected political life, and expectations say it is not yet the end. The number of voters is remarkable and can be essential for our generation. It will be interesting to watch how Donald Tusk can form his government and what limitations will try to stop him from transforming the country towards his ideas. The coming months will be crucial for Polish and European citizens. I would recommend everyone to keep an eye out for the names like Duda, Morawiecki, and Tusk. Let us see how the Sejm can be formed and what outcome the colourful opposition coalition will have.