Was it a populist triumph or a thinly veiled setback? The victory of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, known as PiS, in parliamentary elections earlier this month has been called both. The verdict should become clearer in the months ahead, as the PiS-dominated government comes to terms with an upper house of parliament that is now narrowly controlled by the opposition Civic Coalition. The first test will come next year, when President Andrzej Duda, who is backed by PiS, faces a potentially tough reelection.
PiS can perhaps claim a strong mandate, having retained a majority in the lower house of parliament after its electoral list won a record number of votes earlier this month. PiS and its allies won the first outright parliamentary majority in Poland’s post-communist history in 2015, and now have done it twice. But that is tempered by the fact that various opposition parties performed well on Oct. 13, especially in the Senate.
The tone has already been set after this fall’s bitter parliamentary election. The government and opposition have both challenged the election results in the Senate, with decisions on a recount set to be made by the Supreme Court—the very body that PiS’ opponents have criticized as being effectively under the party’s political control thanks to judicial reforms it pushed through. Further battles look likely in the culture wars over homosexuality, abortion and the influence of the Catholic Church. Krzysztof Kaminski, the president of the Warsaw Institute, a conservative think tank, foresees more of “a clash of the world of conservative and leftist values” in Poland, which will likely attract further international media attention on the country’s divisive politics.