Post-election aftermath in Poland: waiting for a prime minister-in-waiting (18-26 October 2023)

by | Oct 27, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Written by Filip Bialy

In the first week after the election, it has been extremely difficult to distinguish between facts and speculations about the future government. While Andrzej Duda is determined to designate a Law and Justice candidate as the first choice, the opposition leaders are equally determined to present a unified front. However, cracks are clearly visible in both camps.

Law and Justice’s Pyrrhic victory in the election has left the party unable to maintain the government without the support of other parties. Even with assistance from the nationalists in the Confederacy, the United Right cannot hope to gather enough votes. Law and Justice has reportedly reached out to the Polish People’s Party (PSL), a part of the Third Way coalition, with an unusual proposal. In exchange for the necessary votes, the PSL leader, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, would be designated as the new Prime Minister. The offer was publicly rejected, and Law and Justice politicians denied that it was even formulated.

Infighting and purges

Simultaneously, infighting within the governing party has begun. As one might expect in this situation, there has been a blame game. Some anonymous members have voiced their criticism of Jarosław Kaczyński, blaming his campaigning style as the main reason for the election results. There have been suggestions that he should retire – an idea that Kaczyński himself has expressed. At 74, he may not be physically fit to lead the party in the next election cycle, regardless of any political considerations. Eventually, the party’s Secretary-General, Krzysztof Sobolewski, one of Kaczyński’s closest associates, lost his job. His forced resignation has been followed by changes in leadership within regional party structures.

However, Law and Justice is not the only party that has purged some of its leading figures. Confederacy, arguably the biggest loser of the election, decided to remove Janusz Korwin-Mikke, one of the conservative founders of the movement, from the party’s Leaders Council and suspended his membership. In the last weeks of the campaign, Korwin-Mikke made several comments related to the pedophile scandal that involved some of the most popular YouTubers in Poland. Discussing the scandal, the politician, whose ultra-conservative views are well-known in Poland (among other things, he called for the disenfranchisement of women), said that “A normal man does not plan sex. A normal man talks to the girl, wants to learn more about her, and sometimes he makes a mistake.” Previously, he said that some 12 or 13-year-old girls are “mature.” Even though other Confederacy leaders quickly distanced themselves from Korwin-Mikke and criticized him, the comments have been considered one of the main reasons for the underwhelming election results.

President meets the party leaders

Infighting has not been limited to the right-wing parties. In the days leading up to a series of party leaders’ meetings with the President, politicians from the three “democratic opposition” fronts were arguing with each other on social media about the policies of their future government. Members of the Left demanded the inclusion of some social rights issues, such as wider access to abortion, in a coalition agreement. This was rejected by the more conservative politicians from the Third Way.

Those involved in the argument were reprimanded by their leaders, but conflicts over not only ideological positions but also the distribution of government positions will certainly unfold as soon as the coalition gets the chance to designate their Prime Minister. One major discussion is related to the position of the Marshal (Speaker) of Sejm. In the Polish constitutional order, the Marshal is the second-highest office after the head of state. In case the President is unable to perform his or her duties, the Marshal becomes the acting head of state, as it happened after the 2010 Smolensk plane crash in which President Lech Kaczyński (Jarosław’s twin brother) died. Although the opposition has not made any announcements regarding the new Marshal, the main candidate for this position seems to be the Third Way’s Szymon Hołownia.

The opposition leaders made a point of meeting and presenting a unified front on Tuesday (24 October), just before the President met with each of them separately to consult on his next steps. The leaders decided that Donald Tusk will be their candidate for Prime Minister.

The President met with leaders from Law and Justice and the Civic Coalition on Tuesday and with the Third Way, the Left, and Confederacy on Wednesday. On Thursday (26 October), the President made his announcement. As both Law and Justice and the opposition leaders claimed they have the necessary majority in Sejm to approve their respective governments, the President said that there are two strong candidates for Prime Minister. Furthermore, he decided that the first session of the new parliament will convene on 13 November. It means that Law and Justice will have until mid-December to designate and then confirm their Prime Minister.

In the meantime, Donald Tusk is not waiting to be designated. On Wednesday, he flew economy class to Brussels where he met with EU leaders, including the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the European Parliament President Roberta Metsola. His main goal is to secure the release of the EU funding that was stopped in reaction to Law and Justice policies. But the way he acts also sends a clear signal to the internal and international public opinion: he is certain to become the next Prime Minister, and the new government will change the political course that Poland has been following for the last eight years.

Online activities

While the campaign is now over, political discussions on social media have not slowed down. Politicians and journalists comment and speculate on possible scenarios. Most of the arguments between the opposition politicians took place on X/Twitter. It was there where the President’s post-consultations statement was ridiculed the most. Marek Belka, an economist, and a former Prime Minister, commenting on the claim that both Law and Justice and the opposition have the majority, said: “In Polish politics, it is quite helpful to know how to count to 231 [the majority required to confirm the government]. I hope that the President will improve his skills in that regard before 13 November.”