Surprising Conservative Sweep Upends Poland’s Political Landscape

Surprising Conservative Sweep Upends Poland’s Political Landscape
Conservative Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left, and Justice candidate for prime minister Beata Szydlo, right, at the party's headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, Oct. 25, 2015 (AP photo by Czarek Sokolowski).

Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party won an absolute majority in both chambers of parliament in elections last Sunday, marking the first time in 26 years of democratic rule that one party will form a government. Law and Justice, also known by its acronym PiS, broke through that glass ceiling with more than 37 percent of votes. It won the plurality of votes in all categories of the electorate, by reaching out to better-educated urban voters and making advances in the western provinces of the country for the first time. After being in opposition for eight years, Law and Justice will now occupy 235 out of 460 seats in the lower chamber of parliament and 61 out of 100 in the Senate.

The 2015 parliamentary elections were in stark contrast to those held in 2011, when the governing party, the center-right Civic Platform led by then-Prime Minister Donald Tusk, won easily. That election was also a milestone: It was the first time since Poland’s post-communist transition to democracy that the governing coalition parties held on to power for another four-year term. In 2015, however, Civic Platform scored just 24 percent of the vote, winning only 138 seats in parliament’s lower chamber and 34 in the Senate.

Compared to 2011, the broader political landscape in Poland has changed, too. The coalition of leftist parties, United Left, failed to win any seats in parliament this time, getting just under the 8 percent threshold needed for representation. Parliament now features two newcomers formed just a few months before: the free-market Modern party and a right-wing, anti-establishment group called Kukiz’15, led by Pawel Kukiz, a 52-year-old rock star and activist.

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