International press report on Polish elections

International press report on Polish elections Rafał Guz/PAP

Press from around the world have been reporting on Sunday's elections in Poland to the Sejm (lower house of parliament) and Senate, which exit polls suggest was won comfortably by the incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Britain's BBC reported that PiS had probably strengthened its mandate to govern, with the "conservative nationalist party" winning more than 40 percent of the vote. The UK news service commented on PiS's "socially conservative programme" and said it had earned the reputation "of a party that delivers on its promises." In Warsaw, the BBC's Adam Easton wrote that PiS had achieved the best election result since democracy was restored in Poland in 1989.

"Law and Justice has pledged to continue its controversial reform of the judiciary despite opposition from the European Commission," the BBC wrote, adding that "that issue has not dented Law and Justice's popularity."

Britain's The Financial Times reported that the result summed up a turbulent four years in Polish politics. "Since taking office in 2015, Law and Justice has subordinated judges to politicians and reduced state media to a pro-government cheerleader, prompting fears at home and in Brussels that Poland, once held up an emblem of the EU's 2004 eastern expansion, is increasingly drifting into illiberalism," the FT wrote, going on to hail PiS's "generous welfare programmes that have improved the lives of poorer citizens."

In a similar vein, The Times wrote that social programmes were the main reason for PiS securing a second term. It said that in a deeply Catholic country in which the benefits of breaking with communism and joining the EU had been unevenly distributed, PiS had found an effective electoral formula combing radical social conservatism with fiscal generosity.

Britain's Guardian daily meanwhile pointed out that the exit poll results gave PiS a significant growth in support from 2015's result of 37.6 percent. The paper also highlighted that the election results represent a success for the Left bloc, which returned to parliament after four years of absence, as well as to the far-right Konfederacja, which probably passed the electoral threshold.

Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet newspaper said the opposition's failure at the polls was due to its lack of a charismatic leader and that PiS's opponents also lacked a programme that could compete with the ruling party's promises. The paper also wrote that the government's dispute with the EU over judicial reforms had not diminished its popularity. "I don't agree with the government on many issues, but for us, for our family, for the children, other issues are more important," Svenska Dagbladet quoted one voter as saying. "We're grateful to PiS for the generous social policy." In addition to social benefits, the paper also highlighted PiS's promise to raise the minimum wage as a factor in its success.

Describing PiS as nationalist, Reuters noted: "An overall majority in the lower house of parliament would allow PiS to continue its reforms of the justice system, media and cultural institutions in its second four-year term," but cautioned that the win would probably fuel fears of the erosion of democratic standards in the EU's biggest post-communist state. "The anti-PiS opposition received more than 50 percent of votes combined, but the complicated Polish election system gives a bonus to the biggest grouping, effectively meaning that PiS gets the biggest number of seats, and remains in power," Reuters wrote.

Germany's leftist-liberal daily Tagesspiegel called for a change of approach towards Poland from Germany and the EU as a result of the elections, as the "strategy of waiting for the governing grouping to weaken" has expired. Observing that Polish-German relations have not been easy over the past four years, the paper suggested they may now become more complicated unless both governments take a breath, soberly assess the situation, and build new relations on that basis. The writer argued that in Berlin and Brussels it must be admitted that further distancing themselves from Warsaw will yield nothing.

German weekly Der Spiegel wrote on Monday that the election results in Poland were foreseeable. "The liberal Civic Coalition could not do anything to stop the electoral machine of PiS: it had no programme, no charismatic leader, no catchy slogans. Jaroslaw Kaczynski should actually be more worried about competition on the right," concluded the weekly, pointing to the far-right Confederation.

The Law and Justice recipe for success was a mixture of left-wing social policy and right-wing actions in internal policy, stated German daily Handelsblatt on Monday after PiS's expected victory in parliamentary elections.

In its opinion, a surprise winner in the election was the Left, a coalition of three left-wing parties, which became the third strongest force in parliament. The daily reported that, in 2015, the parties forming this electoral committee failed to enter the Sejm.

In Austria, the Die Presse daily wrote that Poland's dispute with the EU over judicial reforms would continue. The paper wrote that the campaign was "conducted with a sharp tone" and "played the national card," also promising greater prosperity particularly to the poorest in society. The daily put the election victory down to social programmes and noted that criticisms over the government's record on the rule of law had little effect.

In Russia, Rossiyskaya Gazeta echoed the theme that it was the government's social welfare programmes that won it a second term, also mentioning promised hikes in the minimum wage and pensions. At the same time, the paper warned that, while their generous social programme returns Poles to normality, it alienates them from the EU. The paper pointed out that Poland is one of six EU countries that do not recognise the right of gay couples to marry, and also that the PiS government "refused to participate in the relocation of migrants." The paper suggests that Poles were swayed by financial promises and that PiS "simply promised voters money."

Russia's Izvestia daily pointed out that Poland's foreign policy will not change as a result of the ballot, that the country will remain a staunch US ally and critic of Moscow. The paper also said Poland would not make any rash moves that might threaten its EU membership, but also would not seek to strengthen cooperation with the bloc. "The traditionally cool relations of Warsaw with Moscow will rather not change", the paper wrote, adding that even a change of government would not achieve that. "Poland has long since been one of the most anti-Russian countries in Europe, irrespective of the political orientation of its government," Izvestia wrote.

Ukrainian media highlighted the "ultra-right populist" Confederation grouping's 6.7 percent support as meaning that "friends of Putin" would take seats in the Sejm, according to the Europejska Prawda portal, which described the result as "a sensation." The country's Radio Free Europe section drew attention to the fact that despite criticism from international organisations, Poland's ruling party enjoys stable, high support from its citizens.

Hungary's press took a similar tack, citing social welfare programmes as the chief cause of PiS's victory. The Magyar Nemzet daily said the ruling party's support comes from "economic growth in recent years and support programmes introduced for residents," also citing reduced taxes and retirement age, raising the minimum wage, and child support. The left-wing Nepszava daily pointed to the sharp decrease in the opposition's support since the 2015 elections. "The populist ruling party managed to strengthen itself despite the European Commission launching Article 7 procedures against Poland in December 2017 as a result of breaching basic EU laws," Nepszava wrote.

Czech news agency CTK also wrote about generous payments to families with children, the "thirteenth" monthly pension payment, raising the minimum wage and cutting the retirement age. "PiS politicians also banked on the patriotic behaviour of Poles and took the position of defending traditional Christian values against the dangerous influence of the sexual minority movement," CTK wrote, also highlighting changes made in state-owned companies and public media, which in the agency's view, "became a voice-box of the national-conservative formation."

On Monday, both the Finnish press and the national public broadcaster reported the results of parliamentary elections announced in Poland on an ongoing basis. They noted the statement made by PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczyński just after the election: "We have four years of hard work ahead of us, because Poland must change further and must change for the better."

Finnish Information Agency STT said that PiS, closely associated with the Catholic Church, during the election campaign targeted sexual minorities whose "ideology," according to the party, threatened traditional Christian family values.

In Spain, both TVE television and Onda Cero radio noted that the ruling camp not only won Sunday's election, but that it had probably gained additional seats when compared to those which it had held previously. The Madrid radio station added that the results of PiS indicated the majority of Poles did not want political change in the country.

Spanish dialy El Mundo pointed out that the victory of PiS, as well as the high voter turnout, were another success for Jaroslaw Kaczynski. "Jaroslaw Kaczynski does not hold any state office and is not part of the government, but he holds the most political power in Poland," reported the paper.

In Belgium, the daily Le Soir emphasised the high turnout, noting that the majority of Polish citizens heeded the calls from all sides to participate in "the most important elections since 1989." It added that the ultra-conservative PiS, in power since 2015, had "indisputably strengthened its position as the top party in Poland."

The Portuguese media focused on the opposition's failure as being a driver for PiS's success. They wrote that the "all against one" approach had failed because the opposition had problems creating a common bloc. SIC television noted that despite earlier declarations, the opposition had failed to present a unified front. It also noted that during campaigning, most committees warned mostly against a further PiS term and majority rule. The Observador daily noted that campaigning was chiefly focused on criticising the incumbents, which had turned out to be an ineffective strategy.

Lisbon daily Publico highlighted the high turnout and noted that it was a record in Poland since the fall of the Berlin wall. In the years 1991-2015, voting stood at 40-54 percent the daily pointed out.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch press focused on the PiS victory, emphasising that the ruling party had attracted new voters, younger, better educated, and that the party kept its promises. The Algemeen Dagblad newspaper stated on its portal that the question was never whether PiS would win but whether they would secure enough seats to rule alone. "PiS has probably won 239 seats in the parliament, which has 460 places," the paper wrote. "That majority will enable the party to carry out all its own ideas. PiS won 235 seats in the previous election."

Another Dutch paper, NRC Handelsblad, wrote that the "controversial on the international arena but popular in the country" ruling party had won Sunday's election decisively. The portal added that the PiS success was due to social transfers that went to voters. It pointed out that the governing party had reduced the retirement age and brought in family welfare to the tune of PLN 500 (EUR 117) a month. This "Polish version of the welfare state" was supported by lasting economic growth and historically low unemployment. It also said Polish voters were not used to a party that "keeps its promises."

The portal of Dutch paper Trouw pointed out that PiS may have done more than win the election as - if the party gains greater support - it will be in a position to overturn presidential vetoes, and pointed out that although the current president is from the same political camp, there will be presidential elections next year.

The portal of one of the Netherlands' biggest dailies, De Volkskrant, wrote that the "ultra-conservative party" PiS has a cascade of social programmes to thank for its success. "Higher minimum pay? Promised and implemented. Significant child benefit? Extremely popular. Retirement age? Reduced against the European trend. Medicines for older people? Free from now on," the paper wrote, adding that the ruling party had achieved great results in rural areas where people felt marginalised.