Thursday 14 December 2017

Poland swings right as eurosceptic party is swept into power

Vote puts country on a collision course with the European Union

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (R), leader of the conservative opposition Law and Justice (PiS) is congratulated by Marta Kaczynska, daughter of late president Lech Kaczynsk.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski (R), leader of the conservative opposition Law and Justice (PiS) is congratulated by Marta Kaczynska, daughter of late president Lech Kaczynsk.
Beata Szydlo, candidate for prime minister of the conservative opposition Law and Justice (PiS) celebrate.

Pawel Sobczak in Warsaw

Poland's eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS) claimed victory on Sunday in a watershed election that risks putting the ex-communist state on a collision course with key European Union allies.

Run by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the twin brother of Poland's late president Lech Kaczynski, PiS secured 37.7pc of the vote, just enough to govern alone and well ahead of the incumbent, staunchly pro-EU Civic Platform (PO) at 23.6pc, said pollster IPSOS, based on 90pc of election committees.

The victory for PiS would be the biggest in terms of seats by a single party since Poland held free elections after shedding communism in 1989 - marking a decisive swing to its brand of social conservatism mixed with left-leaning economics in the country of 38 million people.

It would also be the first time that the socialist grouping that grew out of the pre-1989 communist party failed to win seats in parliament.

A triumphant Mr Kaczynski, whose party immediately signalled plans to reap new revenues from next year with a tax on bank assets, declared victory.

"We will not kick those who have fallen... We need to show that Polish public life can be different," Kaczynski told jubilant supporters at his party headquarters in central Warsaw.

Prime minister Ewa Kopacz of PO conceded defeat.

Poland has seen its economy, the largest in ex-communist central Europe, expand by nearly 50pc in the last decade, with the pro-market Civic Platform focusing on trying to make the most of EU aid and combining greenfield investment with fiscal prudence.

But pockets of poverty and economic stagnation remain, and PiS was able to exploit growing frustration in some areas that the spoils of economic success are not being more evenly shared.

Distrustful of the EU and an advocate of a strong NATO stance in dealing with Moscow, PiS opposes joining the eurozone any time soon and promises more welfare spending on the poor.

It also wants to enshrine more Roman Catholic values in law, reflecting the party's deeply socially conservative stance.

Two new parties appear to have won seats in parliament. The liberal, pro-market Nowoczesna, led by former World Bank economist Ryszard Petru, was seen winning 7.7pc of the vote.

Kukiz'15, an anti-establishment grouping led by rock star Pawel Kukiz, looked set to secure 8.7pc of votes.

The election of PiS is likely to mean that Poland will join ranks with Hungary and Slovakia in opposing relocation of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, deepening divisions in the EU, where Germany's Angela Merkel, in particular, has advocated a more open approach.

Mr Kaczynski, a long-time fan of Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has said Muslim migrants threaten Poland's Catholic way of life.

This month, he was accused by some media in Poland of fanning racism when he said they would bring new diseases and parasites to Poland.

The migrant crisis has led to a boost in support for hard-right parties in a number of countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands.

On the campaign trail, Kaczynski and other PiS leaders sought to tap into nationalist sentiment tied to fears over immigration, particularly among young voters.

Irish Independent

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