The sovereign has spoken: Polish election results (11-17 October 2023)
Written by Filip Bialy
The Polish election silence on Saturday was disturbed by a man who climbed on the top of the Smolensk plane crash monument – which has a form of a staircase leading to the sky – in Warsaw, claiming he has a bomb in his backpack. The police convinced him to climb down, and the bomb turned out to be fake. What proved to be explosive was the result of the vote on Sunday that shattered the Law and Justice’s hopes for the third term in power.
In the last few days of the campaign politicians from all parties were intensively traversing the country and independent organisations doubled down with their voter mobilisation efforts. In particular, women rights groups actively campaigned to encourage hesitant female voters to vote the right-wing government out of office.
The Sunday vote started at 6 am. The media, unable to report any results of exit polls before the end of the vote, eagerly covered National Election Commission (NEC) press conferences organised every few hours to update the public on minor voting disruptions and provide data on the turnout. In the afternoon it was already a few percentage points higher than in the previous election. As a matter of fact, in some districts there was not enough ballots and they had to be printed to satisfy the demand.
Despite all the discussions about the referendum, including the ways in which one could boycott it, a controversy erupted as the local voting commission members in some districts asked voters explicitly about whether they want to take the referendum ballot along with the regular one. The government officials protested such practice (worried that it may discourage voters to take the referendum ballot) and NEC chairman said it is “improper behaviour” on the part of local commissions.
As soon as the embargo expired at 9 pm, the media published the exit polls numbers. That happened despite the fact some voters waited until well past midnight to cast their votes. The polls clearly showed that while Law and Justice received the largest number of votes, the party lost the campaign. The projections of combined results of the opposition committees (excluding Confederacy) were more than 55% of votes.
Donald Tusk announced victory, as did Jarosław Kaczyński. But the moods in the respective campaign headquarters were vastly different.
The vote count lasted for two days with National Electoral Commission announcing the results on Tuesday morning. In the end the outcome and the number of seats in Sejm is the following:
- Law and Justice – 35.38% / 194 seats
- Civic Coalition – 30.70% / 157 seats
- Third Way – 14.40% / 65 seats
- Left – 8.61% / 26 seats
- Confederacy – 7.16% / 18 seats
Two other committees received more than 1% of the votes: Nonpartisan Local Government Activists (1.86%) and There is One Poland (1.67%). The German minority traditionally receives 1 seat in the lower chamber.
The results mean a government of the current opposition will have a stable majority of 248 seats in 460-seats lower chamber. While it is enough to confirm the new prime minister, it is insufficient to overturn the president’s veto. Such a “cohabitation” could paralyse legislation efforts.
In the Senate the opposition will have 66 seats, allowing for a quick approval of the new government’s legislation proposals. The remaining 34 seats in the higher chamber will belong to the Law and Justice.
The turnout was 74.38%, more than in any election in Polish history. Donald Tusk received individually the highest number of votes in the history of polish elections: more thank 538 thousand. Jarosław Kaczyński, who run in a smaller voting district, received more than 177 thousand votes, but the party list in the district received less votes than in the previous election.
Referendum results not binding
Law and Justice conceived the referendum as a tool for mobilisation. Yet only 40.91% of voters took the ballot, making the results non-binding. Those who answered the referendum questions supported the government position: on average almost 96% answered “no” to all four questions.
The detailed results were:
- “Do you support selling of the state-owned assets to foreign entities that results in Poles losing control over strategic sectors of the economy?”: 3.51% Yes / 96.49% No
- “Do you support increasing the retirement age, including reintroduction of the increased retirement age of 67 for women and men?”: 5.39% Yes / 94.61% No
- “Do you support removing the barrier at the border between Poland and Belarus?”: 3.96% Yes / 96.04% No
- “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa in accordance with the compulsory relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?”: 3.21% Yes / 96.79% No.
The new government in two steps?
Polish constitution offers an algorithm for establishing a new government after the election. First, within 30 days after the vote, the parliament must convene for the first session. Within the next 14 days, the initiative to designate a new prime minister belongs to the president. The prime minister-designate has another 14 days to get confirmation from the parliament. If that fails, the initiative is hand over to the parliament. The majority designates the prime minister who has another 14 days to receive vote of confidence.
Despite Donald Tusk’s appeals, Andrzej Duda already confirmed his intention to designate a Law and Justice candidate for the role of prime minister. As it is rather difficult to imagine the right would be successful in recruiting MPs from other parties.
Nevertheless, the success of the new government is all but certain. The government would need to be founded on the collaboration of not three, but at least of ten different parties. That is because each of the three opposition committees is a coalition of parties. Civic Coalition consists of Civic Platform, Modern, The Greens, Polish Initiative as well as Agrounia and Good Move. The Left consists of the New Left and Together parties, while the Third Way is an alliance of Polish People’s Party and Poland 2050. In this last case it is even not certain whether the Third Way will create one parliamentary club.
Polish politics in the last 30 years have seen the worst side of the multi-party system. In 1997 a wide coalition of centre-right parties won the election and formed a government with liberals but over the course of the term essentially dissolved, with both Civic Platform and Law and Justice being its heirs. Now, more than 20 years later, a common enemy united politicians from the centre-right and the left. But as soon as the discussion about the government appointments begins, the cross-ideological alliance will be tested.
Election silence on Saturday and Sunday meant the major news portals did not publish campaign-related materials. On Sunday social media users and influencers continued a long-time tradition of speaking about the expected results in code. As in previous elections, users spoke about the prices of various products (mainly vegetables), along with a hashtag #bazarek (“street market”). And so, Law and Justice (PiS) became “pistachios”, Civic Coalition (KO) was “coriander”, and Confederacy was “confitures”. On the other hand, the Left was “soy latte”, an apparently pretentious drink that is well-liked by the leftist. In most cases, the “prices” provided by social media users proved to be speculations at best and disinformation at worst.
Confederacy, a party with a very strong social media presence, received the least number of votes among the committees that crossed the election threshold. As commentators pointed out, the TikTok campaigning, did not quite pan out for Sławomir Mentzen’s party. Mentzen himself apparently misunderstood the platform, including its algorithm. The Confederacy leader peaked in January and February on TikTok and in March on X/Twitter. In September his social media reach was half it was earlier in the year. Furthermore, Confederacy candidates’ posts, filled with conspiracy theories, were ridiculed by other influencers whose following is vastly larger than that of the politicians.