Poland set to change course
It's a landslide victory for Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice Party (PiS) and top candidate Beata Szydlo.
Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz's liberal Civic Platform (PO), which ruled for eight years, must make do with second place. Should first projections be confirmed, one single party is about to rule Poland for the first time since the country regained independence 25 years ago.
Voters snubbed the government that steered the country safely through the financial crisis and managed to produce solid economic growth. The reasons are numerous.
For one thing, the majority of people in small, dismal towns and villages across the country apparently didn't benefit enough from the excellent economic situation. The fact that PO founder and longtime premier Donald Tusk moved to Brussels also robbed the party of one of its strongest fighters and brilliant political thinkers.
Last year, in addition to the ruling coalition's natural wear and tear, a wiretapping scandal in posh Warsaw restaurants revealed the PO politicians' arrogance and use of vulgar language. There wasn't much Ewa Kopacz, Tusk's hard-working but largely wan successor as Prime Minister, could muster to counter the trend that emerged after the wiretapping scandal. Instead, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a masterful political tactician, scored with an excellent election campaign, a strong team and costly social promises.
Like in the presidential polls in summer, which little-known PiS candidate Andrzej Duda surprisingly won, Kaczynski pulled the strings from the backseat. Following a tried and tested pattern, Kaczynski presented an unknown face as top candidate: energetic, down-to-earth Beata Szydlo. Demonstrating closeness to the influential Catholic Church and their patriotic rhetoric helped win Kaczynski and Szydlo the support of bishops, along with the backing of millions of conservative Catholics.
Unlike young people in most western countries, Poland's youth are very open to the conservatives. Few young Poles aged 18 to 29 support leftist parties; the PiS ranks top, and the liberal PO only comes in fourth.
Lessons from Hungary
A PiS possibly ruling alone alongside the national conservative president could have far-reaching consequences for Europe. Jaroslaw Kaczynski never made a secret of his admiration for Hungary's increasingly autocratic ruler, President Viktor Orban. Warsaw, like Budapest, will take a hard line over the refugee crisis. British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Euroskeptic agenda may also find an ally in Kaczynski.
With its mentor hovering in the background, the Szydlo government will emphatically stand up for Polish interests on the international stage. Compromise, over energy policies for example, is less likely. And should the PiS actually realize its costly social promises, Poland might follow a strategy that could resemble the Greek crisis in the long run.
Both Brussels and Berlin are likely to have a tough time with the new government in Warsaw. Differences on how to handle Russia are inevitable. The new Polish government will insist on permanent NATO bases in the country. Anti-Russian rhetoric is bound to increase and the already icy Polish-Russian relations will deteriorate even further.
Crisis-ridden Europe may very well have a new problem.
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