“Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and you know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt; if you know Heaven and you know Earth, you may make your victory complete.” Thus thought Sun Tzu. And so, it appears, might have thought the strategists of Law and Justice (PiS) which party, as widely predicted, won Sunday’s Polish elections. By not forgetting to appeal to those for whom putting that part of the earth that is Poland before all comers, and to those for whom the way to heaven is the Roman Catholic Church, PiS achieved an absolute majority in the Sejm, and the first single party government in the post-communist era.
According to the State Electoral Commission, PiS won 37.58 per cent of the vote. Civic Platform (PO) which had lead the government won 24.09 per cent, the Kukiz’15 grouping 8.81 per cent, Nowoczesna 7.60 per cent, and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) 5.13 per cent. Thus no left leaning party will be represented in the lower house of Parliament.
Needless to say, this victory has not thrilled the commentariat, who were predicting fire and brimstone if voters had the temerity to vote for PiS. The mantra was constantly trotted out about how PO had successfully managed the Polish economy for eight years, about Poland being the only country in the EU to avoid recession, and so on. As ever, the truth was more prosaic. Of course the economy grew – as it had done under the previous PiS government – but what saved Poland from recession was not PO but the EU accession funds and the remittances from those two million Poles who, whether from necessity or design work abroad, which added, according to the National Bank of Poland (NBP), at least two per cent to GDP.
Folk often seek a change in politics but, that aside, PO increasingly appeared complacent, detached and slightly corrupt. Donald Tusk’s translation to Brussels, for a much higher salary and no bothersome elections as his wife helpfully put it, summed up this attitude as did the “waitergate” affair where leading PO politicians and the head of NBP were secretly taped at a restaurant expressing their thoughts (please see Shattered Reputations and Caught on Tape). The lacklustre campaign of former president Komorowski (PO) who lost earlier this year to President Duda (PiS) typified in many eyes that complacency.
Being sceptical of the EU, being patriotic, refusing to disparage the Church and questioning the wisdom of uncontrolled immigration, is enough to be branded extremist these days. Especially by the arch Europhiles at the Financial Times and the Economist and fellow travelers for whom national borders get in the way of the nirvana of ever lower wages, globalization and control by unaccountable supra-national bodies who always know what’s best for everybody else. Well, they certainly do if you’re a bureaucrat on the international gravy train, a politician looking for the next job, or a big business with an aggressive tax avoiding strategy, but you don’t have to be a communist to ask whether something is not going wrong in the EU. And it is to this rising sense of frustration – rising across Europe – to which PiS seems to have appealed. After all, not every Pole lives in the Warsaw bubble.
Be that as it may, will a PiS government destroy everything? That seems unlikely. On foreign policy it seems likely that little will change. Russia will be given little quarter, no doubt, but the policy towards Germany is likely to continue to reflect the reality of the increasingly close economic ties. German government spokesman Steffan Seibert said that the German government is ready for “a new and, hopefully equally fruitful period of collaboration” as that which prevailed hitherto. Poland won’t be rushing to join the Euro either, but then, despite the treaty obligation to do so, that was not a priority of the previous government and, given the general mess in the Eurozone, Poland will stay well clear for the foreseeable future.
On the domestic front, there will be the usual limited palliatives to those sections of the population which have missed out on Poland’s “golden age” but it seems unlikely that there will be any serious rocking of the boat. It remains to be seen how the new government performs, but it is too soon to write it off as formed by paranoid anti-German bigots, whose appeal rests on Catholicism and nostalgia. After all, PiS did achieve the highest share of votes in the 18-26 age group. As Napoleon Buonoparte reminds us, “victory belongs to the most persevering”, and PO weren’t.