Results from Sunday’s Polish election are now final. (Official results are here, but in Polish; you may be better off with Wikipedia.) They confirm Monday’s headlines of a big win for the right-wing opposition, Law & Justice, which has unexpectedly gained an absolute majority in the lower house and will therefore govern alone – the first time any party has managed that in democratic Poland.
But although Law & Justice certainly put in an impressive performance, with a 7.7% swing since 2011, it’s worth pointing out that its victory is largely an artifact of the electoral system.
Representation is proportional (D’Hondt) within each of the 41 constituencies, but the 5% threshold for representation is national, and for parties running in coalition the threshold rises to 8%. (Parties representing national minorities are exempt from the threshold, so the ethnic Germans won a seat for their 0.2% of the vote.) Three tickets just missed out: the centre-left coalition United Left with 7.5%, the far-right Coalition for the Renewal of the Republic with 4.8% and the radical left Together with 3.6%.
The five parties that cleared the threshold represent only 83.2% of the vote. With so many votes wasted, that makes it much easier for one to win a majority – as Law & Justice did with just 37.6%. It will have 235 of the 460 seats, against 138 for its centre-right rival Civic Platform, 42 for the populist Kukiz’15, 28 for the liberal Modern and 16 for the rural-based Polish People’s Party. It also has a large majority (61 out of 100) in the Senate, which is elected by first-past-the-post in single-member districts.
As is the way of the world, a party with the support of only three out of every eight voters will now take itself to have a popular mandate for radical change. Its policies include greater centralisation of power, an increased role for religion, euroscepticism, hostility to refugees and resistance to action on climate change. The list will be familiar to many readers.
One can only hope that it will not include revision of the electoral system (à la nearby Hungary) to entrench itself in power.
An even more dramatic swing to the right came on the same day in Argentina. Centre-left Peronist Daniel Scioli, as expected, led the first round of the presidential election, but by much less than the opinion polls had predicted: he could manage only 36.9% against 34.3% for the centre-right’s Mauricio Macri, whom he will now face in the runoff on 22 November.
Since the votes of the third placegetter, dissident Peronist Sergio Massa, who had 21.3%, are likely to favor Macri, he will go into the second round as a firm favorite. The Peronists are also doing poorly in congressional elections.
Argentina has been governed by the Kirchners, husband (Néstor) and wife (Cristina Fernández) for the last 12 years. Although there has been no repetition of the economic collapse of 2001, their high-spending policies have been at best an equivocal success and many predict difficult times ahead. It looks as if voters are thinking it might be time for a change.