Recently, Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) was re-elected as president of Poland with 51.03% of the vote in the second round. This is the slimmest election in Polish history since the fall of Communism in 1989 and it was also bitterly divided over the role of the state and human rights issues. This election also boasted a 68.2% turnout rate which is much higher than the 55.34% turnout rate that the 2015 Presidential Election that saw Duda elected president for the first time. The primary opposition candidate Rafal Trzakowski of Civic Platform got 48.97% of the vote in the second round, but in the first he only had 30.46% while Duda had gotten 43.5%, showing a much stronger third-party preference for Civic Platform, but of those that voted, PiS and Duda were narrowly favored.
To clarify the talk about first round and second round of votes, it is important to note that Polish use what is called Two Round Single Member District voting for their presidential elections or simply Two Round. To put it simply, in the first round all candidates are on the ballot, but in the second round, only the two candidates with the highest votes proceeds and there is another vote. This system lets third parties have the ability to make a showing and possibly even breaking into the election, but the system also maintains the stability of a two-party system.
There were also numerous controversies during the election, one of which was that the TVP or Polish Television, which is the state-run media corporation, aired aids that were explicitly pro PiS. This alongside that on the 30th April four former Polish presidents and nine former prime ministers called a boycott of the election as they claimed it would not be constitutional and there was no guarantee that votes would be confidential. These amongst other problems have called into doubts about the effects of this election.
Here is a quick review of the two main parties’ ideologies:
PiS or translated in English, Law and Justice is very much a part of social conservative stances, but it should be noted it defends and expands social welfare programs. Much of the party is dedicated to what they term as Polish identity which lies primarily in Christian values. As such, one of the major themes of this election was LGBTQ rights as PiS has frequently and increasingly restricted their rights as they see it not as a movement for equality but as a dangerous anti-Polish ideology. Duda in fact ran on the platform that LGBTQ ideology was more dangerous than communism, which is a big claim considering that Poland is a post-communist state like many other Central European countries. PiS also supports social welfare programs as well and stipends for families with children. They have also frequently clashed with the EU and while they may not necessarily want to leave, they are certainly skeptical towards the politico-economic bloc. PiS has also advocated for a series of changes to the Polish state that has increasingly centralized power.
PO or Civic Platform is a liberal-conservative party that holds similar views to PiS in some areas. Regarding religion and LGBTQ rights, PO supports the notion that Poland is a Christian nation and therefore does not support same-sex marriage but instead supports same-sex civil unions. However, they are not nearly as hostile to the LGBTQ community as PiS is, but neither are they supporters of it. They tend to be much more pro-EU than PiS and support integration with the bloc. They are also fiscally conservative in that they tend to promise lower taxes, although in the past they have not always held to these promises. Finally, they are very averse to the changes that PiS has made regarding the centralization of power.
What will happen due to this election? Well to answer that there needs to be a bit of background on how the Polish state works. Poland is classified as a unitary sem-presidential constitutional republic. To break that down, the unitary part means that the regional governments are subordinates to the central government ergo they are not federal states that have a say in certain issues. The constitutional republic part means that they are a democracy that does not have a monarch as head of state and that there are codified rules that restrict state power. The semi-presidential part is the most important part to understand how important this election is. Presidential systems elect an executive separate from the legislative typically in a separate election. Parliamentary systems have the executive come from the legislative ergo the party that won the most seats in the legislature gets to form a government and choose a prime minister. Semi-presidential systems are a bit of both. They both have a presidency and a prime minister that wield executive authority. There are two subtypes of semi-presidentialism of which Poland is a premier-presidential, which means that the prime minister is answerable only to parliament and can only be removed by parliament, but the president still gets to pick who becomes prime minister as well as who is in the cabinet albeit with the approval of parliament.
This means that PiS can continue to choose who will become prime minister in future elections, but it is more important who holds the houses of parliaments. Currently, the opposition coalition holds 52% of the seats in the Senate, the upper house, and PiS holds a narrow majority in the Sejm or lower house. This means PiS legislation will need the support of some opposition parties in order to get through, but Poland is a semi-presidential system which means the president has some powers that are not checked by parliament. This will likely mean the continuance of PiS being dominant in Polish politics, but there is a clear opposition to the party.
How is this Relevant?
While there are few if any direct effects on the average American from this presidential election in Poland it is important to keep up to date with the political happenings in other countries. Being informed about what happens in other countries allows us to have a better understanding of the world and what is happening in it.