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Polish Elections: “We regain hope.” Back

Polish Elections: “We regain hope.”

17 Oct 2023

Normal people were to stay at home, frightened or disgusted by the fascist clamor and cacophony of insults. Fortunately, they did not, but went out to vote in numbers that the Third Polish Republic had never been seen before. Only in the free elections in 1919 (!) there were more voters.

Text: Michał Sutowski
Originally published in Krytyka Polityczna on October 15.

For many weeks we have been sure that the result of the parliamentary elections will be decided by a hair’s breadth – according to exit polls from this evening, it looks like it will be quite a hair’s breadth, with an advantage of almost 40 seats* for the democratic opposition over PiS and Confederation. Sławomir Mentzen admitted defeat, Jarosław Kaczyński allowed it to happen, although Prime Minister Morawiecki announced that PiS would try to form a government. Andrzej Duda will probably entrust this mission to a man appointed by the PiS president, who will have 14 days to obtain an absolute majority. The power camp will almost certainly not gain it, but within a month it will be able to erase many traces and open many golden parachutes.

The victory was to be decided by a clash of two sides: those who had given up and those who still had hope. Or more precisely, between those who believe that Poland and the world can be dealt with together and seriously, and those for whom a party that “although it steals, but shares” is the best thing that can happen to them. Of course, the electorates of the government and the opposition are also inhabited by other voters – those who believe that PiS will defend Poland against all the plagues of modernity and help it catch up with Germany economically, and those for whom defeating PiS means a return to normality and what was before.

Million Hearts March, photo by Jakub Szafrański

It is not these groups of fanatical voters (much larger on the side of the current government) who decide who will rule – although the government, with its extremely aggressive polarisation and smearing campaign, tried to do everything to get only such people to the polls. Normal people were to stay at home, frightened or disgusted by the fascist clamor and cacophony of insults. Fortunately, they did not stay at home, but went out to vote in numbers that the Third Polish Republic had never been seen before. Only in the free elections in 1919 (!) there were more voters.

There were moments and entire threads in this campaign that were completely lousy – most notably the pogrom against refugees from outside Ukraine, and to a lesser extent also against them. There were embarrassing moments, such as when editor Rachoń and editor Bogusiewicz asked pseudo-questions in a pseudo-debate on the government television of Polish Television. There were also sublime and uplifting situations – such as when, at the march on October 1, the leader of the left, Włodzimierz Czarzasty, gave the best speech of his career , and Donald Tusk sent greetings to the absent Third Way leaders; when Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus spoke about road safety and people dying at the border in the same pseudo-debate ; when we finally saw the voter turnout bars rising to the sky in non-PiS Poland.

There will be time to analyse the campaign, mistakes made and success factors; the latter will certainly have many fathers and many mothers, unlike the always orphaned disaster. At this point, let me intuitively point to one moment of breakthrough: it was when the opposition presented, in word and deed, an informal non-aggression pact for all democratic forces. When the games to sink smaller entities ended – in the mouths of the leaders and in the media’s messages – voters saw three things at the same time.

Firstly, diversity is a wealth from which to choose, not a means of fragmentation and marginalisation. Secondly, there are forces in the opposition that are able to maintain both subjectivity and the ability to cooperate despite real differences. Finally, its leaders, taking care of their own interests, understand that they are in the same boat as the majority of Poles. In short: a lot of people have realised in recent weeks that they have someone to vote for and why.

The government that will be formed on the basis of opposition forces will be in the most difficult economic situation since the 1990s, and politically – probably since the government of Mieczysław Rakowski in 1989. Although the problems are different, they are no less acute: uncertainity (though rising energy prices), inflation, the unknown state of public finances, the collapse of many sectors of public services, demographic challenges, war at the gates, effects of the climate crisis, mass migrations, and so on. And all this facing a completely uncivilised opposition, a reluctant president, a politicised Constitutional Tribunal and the National Bank of Poland – again, the list can go on for a long time. We will be thinking for a long time not only about how to repair the country and seriously address civilisational challenges, but also how to keep a three-party government working, operating under enormous pressure from all sides.

Nevertheless, today we have the right to be happy that we have finally achieved something in this unfortunate political times, that democracy is alive and has worked as we wanted – even though many wanted it to rot, mistreat it and make normal people completely disgusted.

And most importantly, we have the right to hope again. For this I would like to thank Poles late in the evening of October 15, 2023.

We kindly thank Krytyka Polityczna for the right to republish this piece.
* 36 to be precise, which was edited in the republication. You can access the original story here.

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