Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, swore in a right-wing government led by PM Mateusz Morawiecki this week (27/11) and a cabinet of of mostly new ministers in what opposition parties have declared as a “farce” intended to delay them from taking power, after they won a majority in October’s elections.
Duda, an ally of right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS), has given Mateusz Morawiecki, whose party came first in the elections despite not achieving a majority, the first shot at forming a government. However, A broad alliance of pro-EU parties led by Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk secured a pro-European majority of 248 seats.
The 2023 Polish Parliamentary Elections saw dramatic changes in Polish politics, with the Law and Justice party (PiS) losing its majority after nearly ten years in power, falling well short of the 231 seats needed to form a majority. In October, Law and Justice got 35.4% of the vote, the biggest share of voter support. However, the party only gained 194 seats in the lower house (the “Sejm”), well below the majority needed.The left-wing parties The Civic Coalition, Third Way, and the New Left, won 157, 65, and 26 seats, respectively.
“We abide by tradition by appointing a government formed by a candidate selected by the political camp which won parliamentary elections,” Duda said after he swore in the ministers.
The incumbent party is unlikely to win a vote of confidence in Parliament next fortnight. Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jarosław Kaczyński has acknowledged Morawiecki has “actually not much” of a chance to win re-election from lawmakers. President Duda’s office announced that he would be travelling in December, rather than making himself available to induct Tusk at the earliest date. Tusk is now expected to not be sworn into office before December 13.
Our Analysis: 2023 Polish Election Results Hint At Conservative Downfall and Return of the Left Wing to Power
The situation in Poland after the Parliamentary Elections shows that Tusk’s return to power is not quite a done deal; Poland might not appoint a new government until mid-December, and Law and Justice is expected to try to sway Third Way members away from Tusk as hetries to finalise his coalition. Poland has a multi-party system. With votes often split closely among several parties, individual parties must work together to form coalition governments in order to gain power.
As the leader of Civic Platform, the main opposition party, Tusk has the opportunity to form a new government with support from the three liberal parties. The Civic Coalition is liberal, the New Left is social-democratic, and the Third Way is Christian-democratic. But despite their ideological differences, their combined success with seats in the Sejm suggests that the three opposition parties might be a formidable force if Tusk succeeds in uniting them.
The Polish Elections saw a decline in votes for the conservative Law and Justice is partially thanks to a vast increase in young voter turnout. Young voters played a key role in the election’s results, with voters between 18 and 29 forming a large part of the voter turnout,. According to EuroNews, “the vote ultimately shows that the younger generations voted overwhelmingly against [Law and Justice],” since the conservative party has “managed to antagonise the overall majority of young voters.”
Ahead of the 2023 election, the Civic Coalition’s campaign focused largely on women’s rights and a bill to recognise the rights of trans people. Many expect that a Donald Tusk-led Poland will be a more welcoming country for women and non-traditional families. The increase in votes for liberal parties suggests that issues including women’s rights and abortion, which Tusk plans to prioritise in legislation, had an important impact on voters’ choices in the October 15th election.
For the last several years, politics in Poland has become increasingly divided over cultural issues, with right-wing and left-wing views on women’s rights, abortion, same-sex marriage, and trans rights, as well as debate over climate change, increasing polarization among parties. The fact that a record number of women were elected to Poland’s Parliament suggests that voter loyalty is shifting from “traditional family values” as espoused by Law and Justice to broader popular support for more liberal policy and women’s representation in government. Donald Tusk’s government, once in power, is expected to pass a law allowing abortion for up to 12 weeks and allow same-sex couples to form legally recognised civil partnerships.
Tusk was keen to participate in an EU summit in Brussels on December 14, a day after being sworn in, to show Poland could play a constructive role after years of clashes over Polish erosion of law. Many in Poland are hopeful that Tusk’s potential return to power will restore Poland’s relationship with the EU and ensure that Poland continues to receive EU funding for the years to come. After he served as Poland’s Prime Minister from 2007 to 2014, Tusk worked closely with the EU in his stints as president of the European Council, from 2014 to 2019, and as president of the European People’s Party, from 2019 to 2022.
Tusk’s former role as president of the European Council suggests that his potential rise to power could lead to less tension between Poland and the European Union. Traditionally, the Law and Justice party has kept a fraught relationship with the EU. In 2022, the EU withheld funds from Poland, including pandemic recovery payments, because the European Commission was dissatisfied with new legislation in Poland, especially a controversial disciplinary chamber for judges, which did not allow judges to question the status of another judge without risking disciplinary proceedings. About 85% of Poles support Poland’s membership in the EU, and Poland was set to receive tens of billions of euros in pandemic recovery money over the next several years before the Law and Justice party’s legislation made the European Commission freeze the funding.
However, a number of scandals involving party officials seem to have succeeded in diminishing the public’s faith in the Law and Justice party. In September, Poland’s Foreign Ministry came under fire when its officers allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for issuing hundreds of thousands of visas in Asia and Africa. Even though Polish officials rejected all accusations, a spokesperson from Ylva Johansson, European Home Affairs Commissioner, said that the answer was “not sufficient” and failed to adequately address the EU’s concerns.
Tusk’s near-victory, although frustrated by Duda and Morawiecki, could be a huge step forward for Poland if he succeeds in uniting the left-wing parties to form a new liberal government that many predict will usher in significant progress for the country. Tusk said, “Never in my life have I been so happy about taking seemingly second place. Poland won. Democracy has won. We have removed them from power. This result might still be better, but already today we can say this is the end of the bad time.” He also declared, “This is the end of Law and Justice rule.”