Local Elections as an indicator of EP elections

Local elections took place in November and confirmed certain trends in Polish politics, which provide some indicators for the EP elections. The nominal winner was the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) which improved on its 2014 result, securing more councillors, and the rule in a majority of voivodships (regions). While the Civic Coalition (PO) cemented their position in cities, confirming the urban-rural divide in Poland, PO has lost its foothold in many regional assemblies. The Civic Coalition took 7 voivodships to the north and west, while eastern and southern regions are considered the electoral stronghold of PiS – confirming divisions from previous elections. These trends are unlikely to change ahead of the EP elections.

However the expectations for PiS were much higher – especially in urban areas, which remain out of the party’s reach, suggesting problems for future elections. Although PiS managed to secure coalition partners in Regional Assemblies and Local Councils, a coalition with the PSL or independent candidates remains unlikely for the EP elections. Local politicians tend not to share a common view point with party leadership and are more likely to cave into unsanctioned coalitions – PSL and SLD leaders banned members from joining forces with PiS.

The local elections influenced the composition of certain Ministries, the parliament and the European Parliament – MEP Bogdan Wenta will be replaced by former MP Bogusław Sonik. Unsuccessful candidates are likely to run in the 2019 EP elections.

The Polish left suffered a big loss in the local election, with SLD, Together (Razem), and the Greens getting jointly less than 10%. Expectations of a SLD comeback failed to materialised and now the left has to fight for survival in the 2019 EP race.  A coalition of left-wing parties for the EP elections, including the Democratic Left Alliance is uncertain. Rumours suggest that a decision will be made late January 2018.

In terms of plans for the European elections, the view in the Civic Coalition is that it needs to include a wider array of parties and political movements. Already, the Civic Coalition has absorbed the Modern party. The decisive factor for strategic plans for the opposition will now be the potential involvement of Donald Tusk as a supporting figure for the opposition. Sources within the opposition have suggested that a thaw in relations between Schetyna and Tusk has taken place after the second round of the local elections. Tusk has supposedly made the decision to become involved in a non-official capacity before the 2019 parliamentary elections. If the PO, under the Civic Coalition banner, wins in 2019, Tusk will officially return to Polish politics and run in the 2020 presidential election.

The question of a common list to the European Parliament elections, including potentially PO, Modern, PSL, and parts of the Polish left, is still open. A busy period lies ahead for the PO, gathering partners from all sides to create the ultimate anti-PiS coalition. However in the last three years PiS has managed to stay ahead of the opposition’s allegations which did not attract much social traction.  Robert Biedroń’s new party is unlikely to join the existing Civic Coalition (Civic Platform & Modern) and will probably run independently.

EP and domestic parliamentary elections

Certain rumours have recently been circulating, suggesting that the ruling party may want to hold the European Parliament elections and the Polish parliamentary elections at the same time – this is legally possible. However, this would mean that the term of the current parliament would be shortened by approximately 5 months. During the previous term as majority in the Sejm, the PiS party decided to call early elections, losing to the Civic Platform, hence the ruling party may be reluctant. Still, on the other hand, the EP elections in Poland, especially in rural areas have a low turnout when compared to parliamentary elections. Holding both elections at one time may prove beneficial for the PiS party, which boasts high support in smaller agglomerations and rural areas.

Background

The current political scene is still dominated by 2 parties; Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO), with PiS well ahead in the polls. PO’s coalition partner in the local elections – Nowoczesna, is polling between 4 and 5% and risks not reaching the 5% threshold to get MEPs elected. Another party at risk of failing to reach the threshold is the Polish People’s Party (PSL), whose members also sit in the EPP and are poling on average 4,7%.

Future elections are likely to see the return of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which currently can boast the support of 6 to 8% of the electorate. Kukiz’15 party is likely to remain in the Polish parliament, on average, scoring 7%. Finally, a newly-formed election movement under the leadership of Robert Biedroń scored 5% in the polls, which would be enough to secure 2 seats in the EP.

Poland is entering a hectic election season with 4 consecutive elections over the next 2 years, including regional elections in 2018, parliamentary and EP elections in 2019 and Presidential elections in 2020. The regional elections are likely to set the tone for the next elections, whereas the EP elections are likely to become the testing ground for the new parties, especially Biedroń’s movement. In addition, from the ruling party perspective, the election period is the time to reduce the public presence of the radical party members, put on hold large-scale investments and system reforms, and to focus on the improvement of social spending.

Polish President Andrzej Duda vetoed the amendment bill on the European Parliament election law that was expected to favour big parties and facilitate a two-party system. Consequently, smaller parties gained a breathing space and may be less inclined to form coalitions. However, Duda’s decision may in fact turnout favourable for the ruling party, which may benefit from the fragmentation of the opposition parties.

The two main parties are likely to battle over the very nature of EU membership. Civic Platform (PO) might accuse the ruling party (PiS) of jeopardising relations with other Member States and even suggest that PiS is pushing the country towards Polexit’. In return, PiS will affirm the Polish membership within the EU structures, however, emphasizing the rights of a sovereign state to conduct its domestic policies without Brussels interference.

Issues likely to shape the elections

REFUGEE CRISIS

The Refugee Crisis played a crucial role during the Polish parliamentary elections in 2015. Poland’s Prime Minister recently hailed the new consensus on migration as a success of the Visegrad Group that stood for the rights of their people. The conflict over migrant relocation plays into the narrative of the PiS government that the EU is attempting to interfere in sovereign matters. Protection of the national identity is at the forefront of the PiS partys political ideology. For this reason, PiS will not rush to embrace racial diversity policies, especially towards Middle Eastern or Muslim refugees and migrants – towards which their voter base is strongly opposed.

EU BUDGET FUNDS

The migration issue has been closely related to the EU budget and funding. The cohesion and agricultural funds are very important and recently, the EU decided that cohesion funds are meant to play a bigger role in aiding structural reforms and the long-term integration of migrants. Thus, many believe that Poland is being “punished” by the EU for its strong opposition towards the migrant settlement and the nature of the rule of law in Poland. In the new budget allocation, Poland will receive 20% less than in the previous allocation the equivalent of 19,5 bln. While the allocation cuts are related to the growth of the Polish economy, which is gradually approaching the EU average, this change has become a politicised issue, exploited by the opposition and the ruling party.

REVISION OF THE DIRECTIVES AND REGULATIONS

The application of the revised directive to the transport sector is considered unfavourable to Poland and other countries from the region as it will decrease the competitiveness of East European companies. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki voiced numerous times the potential negative effects that the revised directive might cause.

CURRENT (2018) POLITICAL PARTIES IN THE EU PARLIAMENT

EPP (22 MEPs)

Bogdan Wenta has left the EP following his election as the Mayor of Kielce and will be…

S&D (5 MEPs)

Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) - Originates from the former communist party PZPR.. Former…

ECR (18 MEPs)

- Law and Justice holds 15 seats within the European parliament (19 in conjunction with…

Other

Other parties Kukiz15’ DESCRIPTION Anti-establishment party founded in 2015. Described as…

#POwMediach 11.12:
Przewodniczący @SchetynadlaPO będzie rano o godz. 8:13 gościem programu @RadiowaTrojka. Zapraszamy!

#POwMediach 11.12:
@CTomczyk – @Graffiti_PN (7:45);
@MGolbik – @tvp_info (8:10).

Politycy #PiS jutro (11.12) w mediach:
07:30 @RadioWNET - @KaziSmolinski
07:30 @tvn24 - @SasinJacek
07:37 @PR24_pl - @MMGosiewska
08:02 @GoscRadiaZET - @mhorala
08:10 @tvp_info - @BorowiakJoanna
08:15 #TVP1 - @mareksuski
10:00 @wPolscepl - @D_Tarczynski

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