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Strange bedfellows? Post-election Polish coalition-building

To first read a general overview of the Polish parliamentary election, see our previous article.

The governing Law and Justice (PiS) party remains at the head of the polls with 37% of the vote. However, this places it six points behind its landslide victory in 2019. This, while still a victory, will not be enough for PiS to govern alone. What can we expect from post-election coalition building? Until recently, almost any functioning coalition appeared to be a pipe dream. The Civic Coalition and PiS clearly constitute opposing camps but neither can govern alone. Simultaneously, the Civic Coalition was frequently denied support by the Third Way and Left parties due to its tainted pas, while PiS is now pushed towards cooperating with the right-wing, albeit somewhat nonconforming Confederation.

So is the formation of any post-election government coalition possible? And, more importantly: will it work?

The art of the compromise

Despite its initial positioning as a political force other than the Polish status quo - meaning PiS and the Civic Coalition - and the resulting reluctance to cooperate with either, the Third Way’s ballot leader Agnieszka Buczyńska recently claimed the party would join the Left and the Civic Coalition after the election in order to oust PiS from power. With this goal in mind, we may think of the opposition as a united bloc post-election.

The right wing finds itself in a similar position: neither party can govern without the other. Confederation MP Krzysztof Bosak may have referred to PiS as “discredited politicians” with whom his party does not wish to co-rule, but, colloquially put, beggars can’t be choosers. PiS members, too, admit that while they do not want to rule together with the Confederation, they may not have much choice following the election. At the end of June, party president Kaczyński did not “rule out” the potential alliance and members have admitted to being “sure” PiS would enter into a coalition with the Confederation party. What is more, 30% of PiS voters agree this is the natural next step.

Crunching the numbers

The parliamentary election on October 15 will see votes cast for all 460 members of the Polish Sejm. To govern more or less uninterruptedly, a government party or coalition needs 231 seats to secure an absolute majority. According to an approximate seat allocation calculation using the D’Hondt method, PiS would currently secure 177 seats with 37% of the vote. The Civic Coalition would follow with 149 seats provided by 31% of the vote. The Confederation would be in third place with 48 seats at 10%, followed by the Third Way with 43 seats at 9% of the vote. The Left would come in last with 43 seats at 9% of the vote.

This leaves us with two possible coalitions: the opposition, currently totalling at 235 seats, and the right (including the Confederation, despite claims to the contrary) with 225 seats. While this may look like a victory for the opposition parties, jubilation would be premature. After all, their seat total is only one representative above the necessary benchmark and the polls have reflected a close race. More importantly, even a small fluctuation in the polls results in a significant redistribution of seats.

And yet, the results, verging on a few votes, will have profound implications for the future of Poland in general, and for doing business in Poland in particular. For example, on August 9 the polls showed PiS at 36%, the Civic Coalition at 30%, the Confederation at 13% and the Third Way and the Left at 9% each. While these differences appear minimal, the one percentage point cost PiS, Civic Coalition and Third Way 5, 4 and 5 seats respectively. The Confederation on the other hand would have converted the 2% difference into a whole 10 extra seats (62 in total). With only 42 seats secured by the Third Way, the opposition would reach a mere 227 seats while the Right would lock in the majority with 233 deputies.

PiS and the Confederation: Strange bedfellows

The Pis/Confederation alliance is a mathematical necessity if the right wishes to retain any chance of staying in power. However, both parties’ initial reluctance to cooperate makes sense upon considering their political differences.

PiS particularly mocks the Confederation’s vision of a “no-tax state”, a concept truly antithetical to the ruling party’s emphasis on government-financed social welfare programmes, labelled by some commentators as populism. This directly contradicts the Confederation’s key principle of minimising state intervention, making it difficult to imagine the two cooperating on economic policy. A working partnership would likely force the Confederation to tune down its rhetoric which appeals to many voters who are tired of PiS monopolising the Polish right, and thus endanger its position as a credible “third force” and the eventual replacement of PiS as the dominant right-wing force.

Every vote counts

With every percentage point capable of changing the game and almost two months remaining until the ballots are cast, it is still impossible to predict an outcome. However, the development of the polls thus far shows that every vote will count - both in the election, as well as in the Sejm later on, where the winner will likely possess a very small margin. With the common goal of removing PiS from power, it remains to be seen whether the opposition could create a functional government coalition. It is safe to say that on both sides of the spectrum, the resulting coalitions would be heterogeneous and potentially unstable, creating an environment of considerable political volatility. In this context, political risk intelligence will play an integral role in keeping up with the current developments and their impacts on the local business environment.

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