Why Poland’s Law and Justice Party will lose in four years
Yes, Law and Justice won the elections again. Yes, it was predictable. No, it will not last forever.
The blue and orange map of Poland – embodying the division between Law and Justice and Civic Platform supporters – is a thing of the past. The political duopoly held by the current right-leaning ruling majority and by the centre-right opposition has crumbled, for better or worse. Indeed, it is possible to notice shades of purple now, representing the Left progressive trend that starts to attract a substantial part of the population. But some Poles have decided to move to darker areas, seduced by the far-right Confederation party. In between, one can also observe a green boost, not an ecological one but one from the conservative agrarian Christian-democratic Polish People’s Party. In short, political plurality has finally become a reality in Poland, although the rainbow tends to be more conservative than liberal. Of course, there is nothing to be proud of when it comes to the relative success of parties advocating intolerance and division. However, October’s results certainly demonstrate one thing: Law and Justice is not enough anymore to channel the frustrations of the “left behind”, those that did not feel included in the capitalist turning point. 8 million Poles voted in favour of the status quo just as 10 million expressed their will for something else, impeding Kaczynski to reach the constitutional majority he craved. In other words, during these last four years, Law and Justice produced as many loyalists as it did its own antibodies in Polish civil society. Using social media as a weapon to resist and counterbalance the official propaganda spread on public media, non-politicized citizens became committed activists, able to organise demonstrations rapidly and efficiently on crucial topics usually silenced by Kaczynski’s government such as abortion, sexual education and paedophilia. Adding to this, the fact that it lost control over the Senate means the ruling party will certainly have to rethink its political strategies if it wants to keep a comfortable step ahead.
However, even if Law and Justice does change its political tactics, it may become difficult for the conservative government to maintain its credibility if the economic circumstances shift unfavourably. Indeed, the current healthy rate of GDP growth was made possible mainly thanks to external factors, including the Ukrainian workforce which is said to have had more impact than productivity gains in recent years. However, fewer Ukrainian workers are expected to be attracted to Poland going forward, as reforms held in Ukraine encourage people to stay and contribute to the local economy, while other European countries also try to attract them to boost their economies, sometimes with higher salaries. Moreover, though Poland will certainly maintain a decent level of growth, the International Monetary Fund’s predictions for 2020 underline that the country is about to reach the highest inflation rate in the European Union and private investors were frightened by the government’s campaign of nationalisation and the massive wave of dismissals in the public sector in favour of Law and Justice supporters. Put differently, Poland’s great prosperity narrative is heading towards banality – a word equivalent to failure in Kaczynski’s vocabulary and unusable for public media headlines.
Eventually, the fate of Law and Justice is also highly dependent on the efforts of the other parties to maintain their credibility and in particular to the one that significantly weakened the duopoly: the new Democratic Left Alliance. In fact, after Robert Biedron’s party Spring barely reached the election threshold for the European ballot, journalists predicted the progressive trend would completely disappear during the October poll, underestimating the effect of the unification with two other left parties – Together and the Democratic Left Alliance. In this way, Biedron, Czarzasty and Zandberg have marked the Polish Left’s history and doubled the score obtained by Spring in May, reaching 12% of the votes. They understood they would all benefit from privileging values over egos. And it was a well-played! By doing so, the former version of the Democratic Left Alliance benefited from the dynamism of its younger colleagues so that it could rejuvenate its image and update its political platform which was, until recently, quite indistinct. In the same way, Together benefited from the modern communication of Biedron’s movement to increase its visibility, and was able to break away from its reputation of being a new communist party. Finally, in regards to Spring, after its leader created disappointment in July when announcing negotiations with the centre-right, the decision to keep on the Left track was welcomed as a relief by most of its followers and as a proof of humility by the journalists who criticized Biedron for his excessive enthusiasm, often unfairly misinterpreted with arrogance.
Will this progressive alliance survive the upcoming presidential elections? It is hard to say. These days, Robert Biedron, leader of Spring, posts on social media, using Barack Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes, we can”, a clear hint of his willingness to become the official presidential candidate of the left. A step that could be misunderstood by the Polish electorate after his decision to stay in the European Parliament, where he took on significant responsibilities instead of running for the legislative elections. Yes, Biedron still has national ambitions. Yes, he has charisma and would like to write the Polish version of a young successful leader like Obama or Macron. But coherence is a big deal in politics and after his two previous mood swings, backing out from the European path in favour of the presidential elections without having done it for the legislative ones will not necessarily be welcomed positively by most Poles. Should we then turn our gaze to Adrian Zandberg, leader of Together, who received massive support in Warsaw by being elected with 140 000 ballot papers in his favour? It’s not clear whether he can establish himself, as his colleague Czarzasty, leader from the initial Democratic Left Alliance, will underline his longer experience as well as support from former President Aleksander Kwasniewski. How to overcome the stalemate and choose the right candidate then? By springing a surprise! Or by simply sticking to the core values promoted by the Left and by transforming words into action. Indeed, Biedron, Czarzasty and Zandberg put their egos aside sufficiently to unite but not so far as to suggest a woman as one of the leaders. The presidential elections could be the momentum to seize to shift focus. Considered as one of the hundred most influential global thinkers in 2016 but also as the emblematic figure of the black protests against the ban on abortion, co-leader of Together, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak, was already advocating for a united Left during the European elections and could embody the charisma, unity and legitimacy needed. Would she benefit from the support of the three male leaders and from the massive communication means they wanted to implement to promote themselves? That is another matter.
Specialised in European, Polish and French politics, Alexia Fafara works as an academic assistant in the European Political and Governance Studies Department of the College of Europe. As a gender equality activist and former trainee in the European Parliament, she helped with the creation of the metooep.com blog to raise awareness on cases of sexual harassment in the European institutions. Her work about the strategies used by civil society to change the abortion law in Poland has been awarded by the Jagiellonian University as well as by the University of Strasbourg.