With 72% of the ballots counted by Monday morning, Poland’s incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) party secured just under 46% of the vote, outperforming all polls, according to the National Electoral Commission said.
The liberal Civic Platform centre secured just over 25% of the vote, while the centre-left Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) finished third just shy of 12%.
The polls projected the incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) party would widen their 2015 electoral influence, benefiting from the expansion of the welfare state but also a socially conservative narrative. They did.
Campaigning under the “good times for Poland” slogan, PiS promised to combine welfare expansion with fiscal responsibility. The party promises zero-deficit and healthcare spending at 6% of GDP by 2024, up from 4.6% of GDP in 2016. At the same time, the pension age is back at 65 – instead of 67 previously – and child support had increased substantially.
The plan is now to bolster the minimum wage by 90% and expand spending on education and mass transport infrastructure. Growth is projected to remain shy of 4% in 2020, while PiS promises to fund part of its welfare expansion by taxing alcohol, raising taxes for the very wealthy, and improving tax collection. In sum, PiS does have the credibility to deliver. Over the last five years, the conservative government maintained high-growth while lowering Poland’s debt-to-GDP ratio. The main question on Sunday was not whether PiS would renew its hold on power, but whether they would be able to form a majority government without support.
The ruling PiS appears on course to secure more than the 231-seats required for an absolute majority in the country’s lower chamber, the Sejm. What tilted the balance was participation. The opposition hoped that its voters would be more motivated as a poll by the European Council on Foreign Relations in early September projected that as many as one in two PiS supporters were inclined to stay at home.
On Sunday morning, a number of scenarios remained open, including a PiS single-party government or a coalition government.
The PiS government underplayed previous confrontational rhetoric with Brussels over rule of law, although other socially sensitive subjects – such as LGBTQ rights and the pro-choice versus pro-life agenda – did feature, energizing its base.
Climate politics have been widely rejected by the ruling coalition. The opposition was recently infuriated when the state channel portrayed Greta Thunberg standing George Soros as a useful “context” in understanding the motives of the 16-year old environmental activist.
The main opposition Civic Platform (PO) joined the government in advocating for welfare expansion but also announced controversial plans to eliminate coal by 2040 – in a country that is very much fueled by the black stuff – and also to remove the Sunday trade ban introduced by PiS. Rather than placing an emphasis on minimum wage, PO was promising bonuses for the poorest workers, tax breaks for entrepreneurs and grants for new businesses.
The Left pledged to increase the minimum wage, hire more public workers – including teachers and doctors – and has tried to outbid PiS in health spending while making the case for a public houding program. At the same time, it endorsed the liberal agenda linked to LGBTQ rights while making the case for the legalization of abortion.