On Sunday, October 15th, Polish citizens went to vote in the parliamentary elections for this EU’s 5th most populous country and its 6th biggest economy. The voter turnout was at a record-breaking 74.4%, which means it was almost 12% higher than the previous record set in the election in 1989 – the first democratic election after the fall of communism in Poland. The mobilisation was especially noticeable among women and younger voters. Record-breaking numbers of Polish people registered to vote in polling stations abroad – almost 16,000 Polish citizens voted in Italy alone. People were queuing for hours, someEU even until 3 a.m. of the next day, to cast a vote in the election many referred to as the most important in the country’s modern history.
Election results show that the conservative, anti-EU ruling party came first with 35% support but they lost their parliamentary majority. The centrist and leftist opposition parties combined gained the majority of votes (54%) and, according to their pre-election promises, they should form a coalition government within the next two months. This will mark the end of the 8-year rule of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), which during their reign adopted an increasingly populist, nationalist, anti-democratic and anti-EU course.
The elections were the culmination of a very heated and at times aggressive campaign, with right-wing candidates often using misogynistic and discriminatory language, as well as anti-migrant and xenophobic narratives. The campaign was considered to be unfair by many independent observers due to the fact that during the Law and Justice’s rule, the country’s media as well as the Polish justice system lost their independence.
Since taking power in 2015, this conservative nationalist party has steered the country into open conflict with the EU, impossibly tightened Poland’s already strict abortion laws, eroded its judicial system and demonised LGBTQ+ people, migrants and refugees. The PiS government has also clashed with the EU over violations of democratic principles. Their unprecedented political influence over the courts and turning state-owned media into propaganda outlets led to the EU freezing €35 billion in grants and preferential loans intended for economic reconstruction after the pandemic.
Law and Justice Party has the most support among the older generation, especially in the rural areas, winning them over with social benefits as well as with conservative, pro-catholic and xenophobic rhetoric. The younger generations of voters supported the opposition parties, by voting overwhelmingly against PiS. However, due to traditionally lower voter turnout among young people, just a few weeks ago very few people believed this victory could be possible.
A record mobilisation of voters was key to the opposition’s victory. 71% of people in the 18 to 29 age group cast their vote, which was a great increase when compared to only 46% from the last parliamentary election in 2019. The young generation overwhelmingly voted in favour of the modern European values, with many of them convinced that the right-wing, anti-European rhetoric was dragging their country backwards and ruining their futures. Also, for the first time in Poland’s history, there were more female than male voters. This can be largely attributed to the fact that one of the key subjects of the campaign was the right to safe and legal abortion which was completely taken away from women by the PiS government in 2020.
This election result can give us hope that positive change is possible through social mobilization, solidarity and young people finally believing in, and most importantly using, the power of their vote.