Polish regional elections: everybody wins, nobody loses?

Everybody wins and nobody loses — at least that is how Polish politicians like to be portrayed. However, one party cannot seriously enjoy such a reputation. It is the social-democratic left, which has not only lost, but clearly has no idea what they want to be.

Let us sum up the results: Law and Justice – 34.27 per cent, Civic Coalition – 30.59 per cent, Third Way – 14.25 per cent, Confederation and Nonpartisan Local Government Coalition – 7.23 per cent, the Left – 6.23 per cent. If we sum the results of parties forming the governing coalition, they got almost 52 per cent of the vote. This allowed Donald Tusk to trumpet his victory and to dominate the partners. He confidently suggests that the Left can either be ‘eaten’ by his own party or leave the government. The Third Way, too, was showed its place in the ranks. 

The Civic Coalition alone came second. But it will have a majority in the assemblies. This confirms its dominance and shows that it can grow even with a low turnout. Within the coalition, Donald Tusk’s party has strengthened. 

The Third Way, although its result is no cause for celebration, ended up not bad. This union of Polish People’s Party — always well-positioned in regional politics as a party with no views, only interests — and Poland 2050, an ultra-liberal metropolitan party, won less than last October result, but its leaders say they are satisfied. This time, the Third Way gained the votes thanks to their own efforts, not because of sudden help of the rivals, who urged to support them in the parliamentary election to make sure that this party would not fall under the electoral threshold. Nevertheless, the Third Way is not on the rise. In the coalition, only the Civic Platform has grown.

But the key question is the result of Law and Justice. They lost, even though they won, but they also won – because they proved that the rumours of their downfall were premature.

In some places PiS campaigned for its candidates, making no significant effort at all. This was most noticeable in Warsaw, but it was also the case in Łódź, for example. The conservatives decided to put up with left-liberal dominance in large cities, focusing instead on smaller centres. And there, they proved to be the most trusted political organisation, leaving all rivals far behind.

There were few surprises in the elections to provincial assemblies, which wield the lion’s share of power, rather than mayors or city councils. In percentage terms, except for the losing left, the results are almost identical to those of 15 October, albeit with a much lower turnout. One can speak of a relatively good result for the Confederation in coalition with the Non-partisan Local Governments Representatives. This far right party will have its elected representatives in some local assemblies for the first time. Law and Justice, on the other hand, lost two provinces, Lower Silesia and Silesia, compared to the previous local elections. Their top result in seven provinces does not mean that it will come to power in all of them – they will, however, stay in power in at least four, all Eastern Polish, all being a periphery in the periphery that Poland, internationally, is.

For the left, the highest point of these elections is Magdalena Biejat’s relatively good result in Warsaw, around 15%. The left, and especially its independent wing, i.e. the one from which Biejat comes, managed to involve a wide range of activists in the campaign in the capital and unite them under one banner – something that had not happened before. So far, urban parties and movements acted separately. Mainly because of the old suit of repulsive post-communist activists, who in numerous instances were hyper-liberals no different from Tusk’s party.

Eventually, however, there is a second layer, which is far more important.

Let’s not pretend that what happened to the left is not Donald Tusk’s doing. He is the one who — by moving his party to the centre-left and taking over most of the left’s cultural demands regarding women’s rights and sexual minorities — has caused the space for a left-wing world-view to shrink dramatically.

The Civic Coalition is already both in favour of free access to abortion and in favour of demands for civil unions for all couples, demands that have until now been a significant part of the left’s demands. At least, they support these in words. At the same time, social demands were either partially taken over, only narratively, by liberals, or directly by Kaczyński’s party over last eight years. As a result, no more than 4 percent of workers vote for the left. Law and Justice wins over in this key voter group.

If the Left wants to compete succesfully with both rivals, it will either have to prove that it is more effective than Civic Platform in implementing the liberal-progressive program (hard to do due to imbalance of forces), or radicalise its message. But the Poles — even on the left — are still a fairly conservative society and don’t want the most radical demands. The result? By radicalising on moral issues, the Left does not attract new voters at all, and even loses some moderates. Social postulates — although Magdalena Biejat, for example, had many good ideas here — are paradoxically not particularly attractive to the liberal electorate on moral and social issues. Law and Justice, on the other hand — and this has happened before — has managed (and, as can be seen after this election, has managed effectively) to attract that part of the left-wing electorate for whom social transfers are more important than women or LGBT rights. The policy of fulfilled social promises, which sharply distinguishes the previous government from this one, which has a more “flexible” approach to promises, to say the least, gives the voters who once flowed from the left to the Law and Justice no reason to turn back. And radicalisation on ‘worldview issues’ repels them even more.

Had Donald Tusk included the Left in the Civic Coalition’s electoral lists, he could have overtaken Law and Justice in this particular elections. But his plans go beyond one vote. He intends to see the Left become weaker and weaker, and its voters, and also active politicians, taken over — as many of them have been already — by the Civic Coalition.

Those who say that the Left faces a choice: leave the coalition and defend its autonomy, or stay in the coalition and let its backbone be broken — are right, of course. Threatening to leave the coalition, which is cutting spending on health and social security, would be — however right from the perspective of left-wing principles — a blow to everything the Polish Left-wing voter realistically wants from the party. And they want a big backlash against Law and Justice. The Left is like its voters. And they are fundamentally anti-Kaczyński doubly liberal (economically and socially), and value cooperation and a broad alliance against the right in politics. They belong to the educational elite and support “meritocracy”. On the other hand, if the Left were to walk out, they could be sure that the entire mainstream media, the government and not a few of their supporters would be at their throats for betrayal, enabling the return of Law and Justice to power, and, of course, playing into Putin’s hands.

In a word, the left is in a no-win situation in which the only thing it can do is to replace the hopeless leadership. 

Subscribe to Cross-border Talks’ YouTube channel! Follow the project’s Facebook and Twitter page! And here is the podcast’s Telegram channel!

Like our work? Donate to Cross-Border Talks or buy us a coffee!

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content