Every year bne IntelliNews releases a series of reports on all the markets in our region. These reports take a look forward to the main events of the upcoming year and try to identify the trends that will spill over which are already identifiable.
After a turbulent 2020 and 2021, marked by the pandemic – it has cost Poland 100,000 lives already – a presidential election, and a multitude of internal and external conflicts, underpinned by growing macro-economic problems, 2022 appears unlikely to offer any relief.
Poland is about to enter another election cycle amidst the apparently accelerating disintegration of the Law and Justice (PiS) led government, fighting an increasing number of battles at home and abroad. That promises utter politicisation of pretty much everything, a trend that will be exacerbated as PiS is shattering ever more norms and the once untouchable principles on which Poland has been built over the past three decades.
Politics will be underpinned by the macro-economic environment to a large extent, because of accelerating inflation and a rising cost of living – traditionally the bane of Polish governments.
Poland’s relations with the EU will continue to be tested in the context of Brussels’ trying to make PiS roll back its flagship judicial reforms. Another conflict will continue over the EU’s climate policy, which the government has blamed for the drastic increases in Poles’ electricity bills.
The turmoil in the east – the perceived threat of Russia invading Ukraine, the possible revival of the migration crisis on the border with Belarus, and Moscow manipulating gas prices in winter months – will add to the overall sense of instability, possibly fuelling a complete remodelling of Polish politics beyond the currently taken for granted confrontation between the PiS and the liberals from the Civic Coalition (KO).
While Poland is not holding any elections in 2022, the country will be gripped by the prospect of one the following year. With the ruling camp’s engine sputtering more and more often, as the government hinges on a fickle majority of two in the parliament, the next year in Polish politics will be a permanent campaign ahead of the 2023 vote.
The increasingly dysfunctional government will face ever more problems next year: the likely persistent inflation, the fallout of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the spiking costs of energy are challenges that even the most effective administration would have a hard time handling.
It appears, however, that the ruling coalition of Law and Justice (PiS), United Poland (SP) plus some more or less obscure groupings and individual MPs is losing its ability to make sustained – even if divisive – decisions.
That, at least in theory, should fuel the opposition’s efforts to consolidate ahead of the election and offer voters an alternative after years of merely reacting to what the PiS-led government has been doing.
The Hungary-style consolidation of the opposition around a single candidate for a post-PiS prime minister is out of the question, however, as fault lines run too deep. The best strategy appears, then, for the opposition to run in two large blocks, one liberal-leaning, the other more centre-left.
The government’s position is made more complicated by internal differences, especially when it comes to its relationship with the European Union. While PiS is indeed making its routine EU-sceptic noises, it also is looking out to Brussels to prop up economic growth with the pandemic relief fund and the bloc’s next budget. PiS also softened its stance on the EU during the migration crisis on Poland’s border with Belarus, choosing the “we are defending Europe” tone in its handling of the crisis.
But PiS’ coalition partner, United Poland, is taking its Euroscepticism utterly seriously, refusing to move an inch over the issue that is defining Poland’s open conflict with Brussels: the rule of law. That puts PiS in a bind, as without United Poland the ruling coalition would collapse overnight.
It remains an open question if the government will crack under more pressure in 2022 or, conversely, consolidate around the overarching goal of winning a third term in office. The opposition, in turn, is expected to go beyond its anti-PiS strategy to draft a positive offer, possibly looking to win over the growing numbers of voters ditching PiS to join the “I don’t know” camp in the election polls.
The polls still show the coalition leading at an average of 37%, according to data canvassed by Politico Europe’s poll of polls. The centrist-liberal Civic Coalition is at 24%, followed by another centrist group, Polska 2050 at 15% – with both tipped to work closely together in the run-up to the election and quite likely after it.
The far-right Konfederacja averages 9%, while Lewica – which could join the liberals in the possible future government if PiS loses – lingers at 7%. The agrarian Polish People’s Party is at 4%, just under the 5% threshold needed to win mandates in Parliament. Support for other parties is smaller than the statistical margin of error in the polls.
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