At some point during any election campaign, virtually anywhere in the democratic world, voters can expect to be told that their country is at a crossroads. But rarely has the age-old electoral cliche been truer than right now in Poland. The European Union’s fifth-most populous nation is gearing up for a pivotal election on Sunday, October 15th, and the results of this election will have far-reaching consequences, reverberating westwards through the EU, eastwards into war-torn Ukraine, and across the Atlantic, where the White House will be watching closely.
The political landscape in Poland is undergoing significant shifts, with the ruling populist Law and Justice party (known as PiS) seeking an unprecedented third consecutive term. However, a united opposition coalition is in striking distance of taking power, making this election perilously tight. In this blog, we will delve into the intricacies of the upcoming Polish election, the key players involved, and the potential ramifications for Poland, Europe, and the world.
Poland is heading to the polls to elect its new parliament, and the stage is set for a fierce battle between the PiS and a coalition of centrist parties led by Donald Tusk, Poland’s former prime minister and the ex-president of the European Council.
As the campaign enters its final days, numerous outcomes remain possible. Polls indicate that PiS is ahead of Tusk’s Civic Coalition, albeit by a narrow margin. This suggests that neither group is likely to win an outright majority in the Sejm, Poland’s lower house. Consequently, the post-election period is expected to be a period of intense negotiation, with the leading party striving to form a coalition government.
The Players and the Stakes
One intriguing element in these negotiations is the smaller, far-right party known as the Confederation. There has been speculation about whether the Confederation would enter into a pact with PiS if the election results position them as kingmakers. The Confederation’s leaders have insisted they are not interested in making deals, but their role in the post-election landscape remains uncertain.
A Bitter Campaign
This year’s election campaign in Poland has been characterized by personal feuds and relentless attacks. PiS, which has faced accusations of scapegoating migrants and LGBTQ people in previous elections, has focused on portraying Donald Tusk as a puppet of Brussels and Berlin. They initiated a controversial probe earlier this year into “Russian influence,” which was criticized both domestically and internationally as an attempt to target the opposition leader.
Public media, largely controlled by PiS, has echoed many of these talking points. In response, Tusk has framed his run as a last chance to save Poland from corruption and authoritarianism.
The illiberal turn Poland has taken during PiS’s eight-year rule has strained its relationships with Western nations. Poland, once seen as an exemplar of post-Soviet democracy, has lost friends in the West due to concerns about democratic backsliding, judicial independence, media freedom, and the rights of women and minorities.
The Stakes for Poland and Ukraine
Critics of the PiS government contend that a third term would allow them to further solidify their grip on Poland’s institutions. The concern is that if PiS remains in power for another four years, they could close the gaps in the authoritarian system they’ve been building for the last eight years.
Beyond its own borders, Poland’s election is being closely watched, particularly in Ukraine. Poland’s support for Ukraine has been a cornerstone of its foreign policy in recent years. However, this support is showing signs of strain as the campaign rhetoric has taken a more contentious tone. The emergence of the far-right party, the Confederation, has further complicated relations with Ukraine, particularly regarding assistance to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
Historical grievances related to a World War II-era massacre by Ukrainian nationalists have resurfaced, adding to tensions that were previously buried after Russia’s invasion. While it’s unlikely that Poland would halt the passage of Western weapons through its territory to Ukraine, damage to Polish-Ukrainian relations during the election campaign could push Ukrainians to look to other partners, such as Berlin and Washington, for support.
Poland’s upcoming election is indeed a crossroads moment, not just for the country but for the entire region and beyond. The outcome will shape Poland’s domestic policies and its standing in the European Union. Additionally, it has the potential to impact Poland’s relationship with Ukraine and the broader geopolitical landscape.
As the election draws nearer, all eyes are on Poland, waiting to see which path the country will take. The world watches with bated breath as Poland faces its moment of decision, aware that the consequences of this election extend far beyond its borders.