The exit poll conducted by the Ipsos survey firm is now available, and the results show a victory for PiS even larger than any of the pre-election surveys suggested. If these numbers stand, not only would PiS have enough votes to govern without any coalition partners, but the left would be entirely unrepresented. Although the Zjednoczona Lewica (United Left) passed the 5% required to receive seats, they are formally a coalition rather than a party, which means that they needed 8%. As I suggested in an earlier post, it seems that the surging popularity of the competing left-wing organization, Razem (Together) took enough votes away from ZL to keep them both out of the sejm. When the seats are divided up among the parties that would be represented (according to this survey numbers), the new sejm would look like this:
The exit polls have a 2 point margin of error, so it is quite possible that the agrarian PSL could fall out, and that that the far-right Korwin could make it. It is even conceivable that either Razem or ZL could still make it, since both are (barely) less than 2% away from what they would need. All this could shift the picture one way or the other, so there’s still a lot to be decided. It is still possible, though at this point very unlikely, that PiS won’t have quite the votes needed to govern without a coalition partner. It probably doesn’t matter much, because a coalition with Kukiz would be quite easy. Even a PiS-Kukiz coalition, however, would fall 20 votes short of what they would need to change the constitution. This could turn out to be a vital limitation, because it will prevent them from going quite as far as Viktor Orban has in Hungary in weakening the institutional and legal framework of liberal democracy. Still, it is now almost certain that PiS will be able to govern for a full four year term, so a repeat of the chaos of 2005-2007 (which brought the previous period of PiS rule to a rapid end) is not likely.
So what does all this mean? Here are the things we can almost definitely expect to see in the coming months (in no particular order):
- a significant increase in social spending, mainly financed through a larger budget deficit
- a stop to any privatization plans for state-owned firms
- a return of the retirement age to 65 for men and 6o for women
- a higher minimum wage
- a monthly subsidy of 500 złoty (about $130) per child for every Polish family
- a purge of the state-owned media and of the key positions in the state-owned cultural institutions
- a ban on in vitro fertilization procedures
- no legal recognition of any form of homosexual civil unions (much less gay marriage)
- judicial reforms to place prosecutors under the authority of the (politically appointed) Minister of Justice
- educational reforms to limit the autonomy of local schools, particularly when it comes to the teaching of history
- a return to the previous practice of starting elementary school at age 7
- a much more assertive foreign policy (though what this will mean exactly is unclear)
- an end to any plans for eventually adopting the Euro
We will likely also see the following longer-term developments, either as deliberate actions or unintended consequences:
- the withdrawal of all advertising spending from state-owned firms (or companies hoping to win state contracts) from media opposed to the government.
- an official investigation designed to show that the 2010 plane crash that killed former President Lech Kaczynski was a murder rather than an accident, followed by attempts to bring to justice those held responsible.
- high-profile arrests of business people with ties to the former government
- a sharp drop in the value of the złoty (it is already at a near record high of 3.86 to the dollar, because currency markets have factored in a probable PiS victory; once markets open on Monday it is likely to break the old record of 3.95).
- economic sanctions resulting form Poland’s failure to maintain the budgetary discipline required by Brussels.
- harsh criticism from West European governments, mostly focusing on economic policies but also regarding any moves PiS makes to limit dissent in the media and to use the judicial system for political ends. But nothing more than words.
- an increase in emigration to Western Europe (particularly the UK), mostly by young, educated, urban, Poles.
- a decline of foreign investment in Poland
- a short-term fall in the unemployment rate because of the stimulus effect of the new government’s spending plans, followed by an increase as the international consequences of PiS rule set in
- a significant increase in the public role of the Catholic Church, accompanied by a continued decline in rates of religious observance (following a well-established pattern by which participation in religious life declines whenever the Church takes on a more obviously political role)
- many well-funded educational and cultural programs aimed at promoting a historical narrative focused on Poland’s eternal victimization, and on the country’s collective heroism and virtue.
Some of these developments might not come to pass, particularly if the PiS parliamentary majority turns out to be a bit smaller than the exit-polls suggest. And some might be more or less comprehensive. But the changes to come are definitely going to major, touching the daily lives of every Pole. The one thing just about everyone can agree on is that Poland in 2019 will look very different from Poland today, and that October 25, 2015 will be mentioned in the history books as a major turning point in Polish history.