Significant Aspects to Note:
The right-wing Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) party is struggling to keep its coalition with the United Right (Zjednoczona Prawica, ZP), which has ruled since 2015. The parliamentary elections will be a test for that unit and for the management of the cabinet in the context of the war in Ukraine and the tense relations with Brussels. As you can see on the diagram, the strong loss of votes for PiS does not translate into a significant increase for the opposition coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska, KO) led by Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), which obtained 26.7% of the votes in the last elections and received about 28% in the most recent public opinion polls.
There are several significant aspects that will have a direct, game-changing impact on the political processes and, consequently, on the outcomes of the election results. It is fundamentally important to keep an eye on the “pulse” of the following elements:
- In 2022, the Polish government was subjected to a great deal of pressure due to the enormous flow of refugees that arrived from Ukraine, especially in the eastern regions, which are agrarian in nature and which are one of the main sources of support for the ruling PiS. The 1.5 million refugees on Polish soil—it is the country that welcomes the most—represent an increase of 3.9% of the population. While Warsaw is united in its support for Kiev, tensions are still brewing. Proof of this can be seen in the Polish Government’s condemnation of the celebration in Ukraine—as a national holiday—of the birth of ultranationalist leader Stepan Bandera, responsible for the genocide of Poles and Jews.
- Nor have there been few complaints from farmers in the border province of Podkarpackie, in southeastern Poland, because of the Ukrainian grain (wheat, corn, barley) flooding the Polish market, exerting downward pressure on prices, and seriously affecting the income of small farmers in the poorest region of the country. In December 2022, there was a protest in the city of Lublin, where the leader of the farmers’ protest movement AgroUnia, claimed that the price of corn had fallen by more than 40% in Poland within a fortnight. It is therefore not surprising that the Polish government has begun to notice a considerable drop in support in the polls of these regions. In the 2020 presidential elections, the PiS candidate, Andrzej Duda, received 91.4% of the votes in the province.
- Poland is center or periphery, and where one wins, the other loses. Polish society is varied and tendentially conservative, but social fractures (cleavages) are evident. Where the center of Warsaw is dominated by young university students and workers from the intelligentsia, a few minutes by tram from Aleja Jana Pawła II, the landscape becomes wooded and quiet. Reminiscent of times of hardship and deprivation, weakened by Soviet terror and the bogeyman of the German neighbor, any interference with one’s lifestyle by external entities is peculiarly tolerated and easily exploited. Urban areas, especially big cities like Warsaw, Kraków, and Gdańsk, are more liberal, European, and multicultural. This split is reflected in the voting patterns, with the PiS gaining a majority in rural areas and the PO dominating in urban areas.
- A part of the ruling coalition clearly sees a window of opportunity that the conflict in Ukraine has opened to normalize relations with Brussels and backtrack on some aspects of judicial reform to raise funds for national recovery. Meanwhile, Kaczyński’s wing believes this moment offers the opportunity to redouble the bet on the most conservative aspects of the government—such as the almost complete prohibition of abortion, control over the press, and restrictive laws against the LGTB collective—and in its belligerence towards Russia as its main rival. The government has tried to maneuver to ensure that the first tranche of recovery funds begin to arrive in the summer of 2023 (€35 billion), which would be a great success for the executive, as it would alleviate public spending, significantly improve the country’s economic situation, and provide PiS with a huge opportunity to regain the political initiative ahead of the elections. If, on the other hand, Poland does not obtain the funds, the conservative government would see its credibility seriously compromised in the financial markets, narrowing its scope for public spending and investment, and the increase in interest rates on public debt would make the state’s debt even more expensive. At the same time, the ability of the ruling party to obtain the even more crucial cohesion funds it needs from the European Union for 2021–2027 (€76.5 billion) would also be called into question.
It is very hard to find an issue on which PiS and PO hold the same position. Perhaps the only thing that “unites” their political visions is Russia, a country that represents a direct existential threat to Poland. On this topic, there is full consolidation and agreement among the local political elite. But if we focus on the above-mentioned and other aspects, we will see a huge gap between the positions of PiS and PO. For example, PO harshly criticizes the ruling party for “ineffective management of Ukrainian refugees—poor funding and administration, because of which local governmental bodies were obliged to allocate a huge part of their own budgets to pay for the Ukrainians’ upkeep.
The opposition has a very negative attitude towards the Polish government in terms of the Ukrainian grain issue and the blockage of Brussel’s suggestions with regard to the “rule of law” dispute between Warsaw and the European Commission. According to PO, the ruling party should be following Brussel’s recommendations and should stop blackmailing strategic partners, thus automatically guaranteeing Poland full access to the EU recovery fund.
Another chapter in PiS-PO relations is the “game of words”. The PO claims that the government is spreading lies to discredit Donald Tusk and present him as a foreign spy. In the PiS narrative, the opposition is disinforming Poles and international partners to discredit the image of Poland. This process makes a very diverse Polish society even more polarized.
The latest public opinion poll conducted by IBRiS checked which groupings Poles would support in elections to the Sejm and Senate. The leader among the respondents turned out to be the United Right, with PiS at the forefront (33.5%). Behind the currently ruling formation was the Civic Coalition (28.3%), with third place taken by the Confederation (11.7%).
The Third Way, i.e., the coalition of PSL and Poland 2050 (10.6%), Left and the Together Party (9.7%) and AgroUnia (0.3%) were off the podium. 5.8% respondents had no opinion on the matter.
Compared to the previous IBRiS poll for “Wydarzenia”, the results of which we learned on May 22, support for PiS decreased by 1 percentage point, and for KO it increased by 3.7 percentage points. The ratings of the Third Way are lower by 3.6 percentage points, while Konfederacja gained 0.6 percentage points and Left and Partia Together 0.4 percentage points. By 0.5 percentage point less, the Polish people chose the option “I don’t know”.
PiS’s base of support has shrunk as a result of continuous economic instability, an ongoing dispute over EU money, and intra-camp warfare. If elections were held today, the incumbent party would almost surely lose its legislative majority, and the opposition parties would put together a weak coalition. However, the election is to take place in five months. The rate of inflation is decreasing, unemployment is still low, and even if the economy is deteriorating, a recession is not expected to occur. A potential unblocking of EU coronavirus money would free up financial resources for additional social spending, and the opposition is still unable to convert disenchanted ex-PiS voters. With all of these possible advantages for PiS, the outcome of the election will probably remain unpredictable until voting day.
What Can Georgia Expect?
Whoever wins the parliamentary elections by forming a coalition (because it is the only tool to achieve victory), we will see no dramatic changes in Polish-Georgian relations.
- There will be no pro-Russian government;
- Both camps support the integration of Georgia into European and Euro-Atlantic structures;
- The issue of supporting Ukraine and Ukrainians in their war against Russia will remain unquestionable;
- The Eastern Policy of the country will not be revised because its general content is a product of national consolidation;
- Both political parties have leading members who sympathize with and support Georgia. They perfectly understand the challenges and problems that this Southern Caucasus state faces;
- Both political parties openly support trans-Atlantic cooperation and the active involvement of the USA in the Eastern European region;
- There are several politicians in both parties who advocate for Georgia’s involvement in the Three Seas Initiative.
It is also worth mentioning that right now, and most likely in the near future (4-5 years), the whole attention of Poland will be oriented toward Ukraine and Belarus, two key actors in the Eastern policy. The role of Moldova is also growing, but that does not mean that Georgia will disappear from Warsaw’s radar. It is a peculiar case when the initiative in Polish-Georgian relations is on Tbilisi’s side. In practice, it means that the present or future Georgian government has to do much more in terms of approaching EU and NATO requirements and intensifying strategic relations with Warsaw, which may enable Tbilisi to benefit from the significantly increased political, military, and economic weight of Poland and get its support in the international arena. Potential exists, but political will in Tbilisi does not seem to be tremendous in this regard.