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Why Kaczynski Isn't Smiling: Poland's Mixed Election Results

Why so glum?
Why so glum?
Marek Beylin

WARSAW — Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) won last weekend's parliamentary elections. So why was longtime party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski so obviously glum during his victory speech?

The first answer is in the performance of other Polish political parties: combined, the three main blocks of the democratic opposition received more votes in total than the conservative forces of PiS. This outcome is the clearest sign that Kaczynski's plans to cement total political control over the country will be harder to achieve than he hoped.

The PiS victory is there, but it is not a crushing one.

Since 2015, PiS has had a majority in both the lower house of parliament (Sejm) and the upper house (Senate). Since 2005, all of Poland's presidents have also come from PiS — including the current one, Andrzej Duda. But Sunday's parliamentary elections have changed the equation. True, PiS retained its majority in the Sejm. But While Kaczynski was dreaming of destroying The Polish People's Party, its primary opponent, even those parties who reached only 8% are talking about success ... The PiS victory is there, but it is not a crushing one.

Moreover, PiS failed to take the majority in the Senate, which means that essential staff changes will be impossible without the approval of the united opposition. The new Senate may also publicly criticize any unlawful activities of PiS, which will further weaken the party.

Opening ballot boxes in Lubin, Poland on Oct. 13 — Photo: Piotr Twardysko-Wierzbicki/ZUMA

But the real reason Jaroslaw Kaczynski may have been so gloomy the day after is that his party's drop in support came despite powerful propaganda in state media and support from the always influential Catholic Church hierarchy — and may mean PiS could lose the presidency when voters return to the polls to choose the head of state in May.

No doubt, PiS will spend the next six months doing everything it can to weaken the opposition. With the new campaign already up and running, PiS promised further benefits to citizens and tougher pressure on opponents. PiS will use the courts, free media, and local governments. It will intensify propaganda attacks on elites, minorities, and political opponents. It will convince the public that there are enemies of Poland in the foreign service.

The hope it that it will all backfire.

It will be a campaign of political violence, which is increasingly likely to spill over onto the streets, as PiS will intensify hateful attacks against its opponents. Kaczynski's party will count on the fact the European Union will probably be paying less attention to its acts of authoritarianism.

The hope is that it will all backfire — that PiS's radical actions will mobilize opponents rather than intimidate them into passivity.

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