Political horse-trading begins in wake of Polish election

Political horse-trading begins in wake of Polish election
Civic Coalition's leader and the possible next prime minister Donald Tusk at a live debate on television in October. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw October 17, 2023

As official results trickle in slowly, pointing to the incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) party losing power to a coalition of liberals, centrists, and the left, the first moves began on October 16 aiming at establishing a new political reality.

With PiS currently expected to win 196 seats in the 460-seat Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, the ruling party is well short of the 231 seats needed for a minimum functional majority in the next parliament.

A poor showing by the only possible coalition partner, the far-right Confederation, which only won 12 seats, has left PiS in the lurch and reportedly desperate. The Polish media claimed the party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, even probed the opposition’s Third Way about a coalition, a foray the Third Way flatly rejected.

But PiS's attempt at breaking the opposition’s unity just hours after polling stations closed marks the beginning of what the Polish public appears set to endure in the next several weeks, as the new government is forged.

In the most protracted scenario, the currently most likely new government – a tripartite affair between the Donald Tusk-led centre-right Civic Coalition, the Third Way, and the Left – could only face a confidence vote at the turn of the year, despite being on course to securing around 250 seats in the new parliament, a comfortable majority.

The nearest move is the first sitting of the parliament, which has to take place within 30 days after the election results, so by mid-November. Within up to 14 days of the first sitting, Duda will nominate a new PM and the nominee will have to win a vote of confidence.

It is possible that President Andrzej Duda, a staunch ally of PiS, will offer the party he hails from the first go at finding a majority, which PiS has already begun seeking by feeling out the Third Way.

“We are open to talk to anyone willing,” Radoslaw Fogiel, the spokesman for PiS’ parliamentary caucus, told Radio Zet, mooting more political horse-trading in the pipeline.

It seems unlikely that a PiS nominee would be able to gather a majority. But it would give PiS time to cling to power for a few more weeks during which – some observers fear – the ruling party could try getting entrenched in other institutions of the state or otherwise thwart the opposition’s work at piecing together a majority of its own.

In the run-up to its turn at winning a confidence vote, the anti-PiS coalition will need to divide ministries and strike a coalition deal, which means even more political bargaining in front of some 10mn voters who queued in the cold late into the night at polling stations to vote PiS out.

“Public opinion surveys indicate that even 20% of [Civic Coalition] voters do not trust Tusk. For me, as a member of the Polish People's Party, our leader, Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz, is the best candidate,” Wladyslaw Bartoszewski told reporters. PSL is part of the Third Way grouping along centrist party Polska 2050.

Full official results of the election are due on October 17.

With 90% of precincts reporting, PiS won 36.4% of the vote ahead of Tusk’s Civic Coalition at 29.7%. The Third Way was at 14.5% and the Left at 8.4%. The far-right Confederation won 7.2% of the vote the still incomplete results showed.

Turnout came in at 74%, the biggest in any democratic election in Poland since 1989.