Key Challenges

Strong economy boosts governing party
Parliamentary elections in Poland will be held in autumn 2019. As the results of the local and regional elections in October 2018 and the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019 indicated, the outcome of these elections remains open. In the local and regional elections, PiS increased its vote share, but clearly remained behind expectations. In the elections to the European Parliament, by contrast, the PiS emerged as the clear winner, getting a record-high 45.4% of all votes compared to 38.5% for the “European Alliance,” a coalition of various opposition parties centered around the Civic Platform (PO). PiS will surely benefit from the good economic results, as well as the popularity of its social-policy activities.
Strong fiscal position
may be deceptive
With the elections approaching, there will be a strong temptation for the PiS government to boost its popularity further by reducing taxes, increasing spending or adopting other popular measures. This would cause medium-term problems by worsening the country’s fiscal position. The latter currently looks better than it really is, as the decline in the headline deficit has been primarily caused by the Polish economy’s recent strength, and the structural, cyclically adjusted fiscal balance has not met the government’s own medium-term target. In the run-up to the elections, the government is also likely to neglect the complex and politically divisive structural issues that are still on the agenda in fields such as health care, education and the energy sector.
Opposition parties fragmented
The opposition parties also face a number of challenges. One issue is how to deal with the fragmentation within the various opposition camps. Forging an alliance, as practiced by most of the center-left parties in the elections to the European Parliament, might help to overcome electoral thresholds and improve chances in the election to the Senate, the second chamber of parliament that is elected using a first-past-the-post voting system. On the other hand, such a strategy might make it more difficult to attract voters who are critical of the PO, the main government party from 2007 to 2015, and who are fed up with the polarization in Polish politics. A second challenge will be to develop a policy platform that takes the social concerns of broad parts of the population into account, but comes with fewer negative economic and fiscal side effects. For the opposition parties to win the elections, they will have to do more than simply criticize the authoritarian clientelism of the PiS government.

Party Polarization

Economics, view of history are polarizing factors
The Polish party system is dominated by two parties that are both rooted in the Solidarność movement – the centrist Civic Platform (PO) and the populist-nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS). The two parties take different approaches toward socioeconomic policies: PO believes in the market as a regulator, and sees the provision of equal opportunities for people as a primary goal, while the PiS has a more leftist profile, pursuing a path of greater state interference and broader social welfare. More important than these policy differences, however, are the two parties’ different views of Poland’s post-communist history and differing conceptions of democracy. Whereas PO sees Poland’s economic and political development since 1989 as being a successful transition to a market economy and a liberal democracy, the PiS argues that the break with the communist past has been incomplete, and that the common people have been betrayed by the liberal elites; consequently, it calls for further efforts to rid the country and all state institutions of anything that has any tinge of communism.
Elimination of checks
and balances
Whereas PO subscribes to compromise and pluralism, PiS has sought to eliminate checks and balances. The political polarization between these two camps has been exacerbated by the fact that the PiS government has ruthlessly used its parliamentary majority to expand its power and implement its own projects.
Clear majority has
averted gridlock
Given the government’s clear parliamentary majority and the weakening of other checks and balances, the polarization has not led to gridlock. However, the government’s strategy of passing bills very quickly, without much consultation and without searching for consensus has massively undermined the quality of laws. (Score: 4)
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