Populist legacy will weigh on Poland’s next government

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Expectations for Poland’s pro-EU government which is due to take power next week are sky-high but current ruling nationalists will still be a powerful and influential opposition, analysts say.

A coalition of pro-EU parties headed up by former European Council president Donald Tusk won a majority in parliamentary elections on Oct. 15 against the right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Tusk, who is also a former prime minister, will have his work cut out after eight years of PiS in power.

“There won’t be any miracles” as the new government faces daily battles with PiS which “will continue to fight,” Jaroslaw Kuisz, a political analyst, told AFP.

“It will be like going through mud” and quick change is unlikely as PiS leaves “a judicial minefield,” he said.

PiS will be the biggest single party in the new parliament with 194 out of 460 seats in the lower house and has shown it intends to be a combative opposition.

The party also has allies in the presidency, the central bank and the supreme court, as well as several important judicial and financial state institutions.

It also dominates state media organisations, which have become a government mouthpiece during its rule.

Analysts speak of a “spider’s web” woven by PiS by putting allies in influential roles with mandates that will last long into the new government’s tenure.

President Andrzej Duda is due to step down ahead of a presidential election in 2025 but he could use blocking tactics between now and then, vetoing legislation brought to him by the pro-EU majority in parliament.

The head of state gave an insight into his intentions by initially nominating the PiS prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki to form a new government even though it was clear the party had no majority from the outset.

He effectively gave PiS two more months in power.

Tusk has reacted angrily, saying on Friday that PiS has spent its last few weeks in power “wreaking havoc, destroying the Polish state.”

Kuisz said the party has used the time “to reinforce itself institutionally and financially.”

PiS has named two former ministers to head up important state financial institutions and new prosecutors.

The president has also approved 150 new judges nominated by a body that was criticised by the European Union as being too much under the influence of PiS.

Controversial judicial reforms introduced by PiS have pushed Brussels to freeze billions of euros in funding destined for Warsaw which Tusk wants to unblock.

There is also uncertainty over the true state of the economy and there is the budget, which the new government will now only have 15 days to put together.

One key question for the new cabinet will be whether to continue with social welfare payments introduced by PiS and enact campaign promises such as salary raises for teachers and civil servants.

Difficulties in an economy still reeling from high inflation have not prevented PiS from transferring millions of euros into various foundations which experts say will allow PiS to ride out its time in opposition before a possible return to government.

In terms of foreign policy, the future government faces the challenge of resolving tensions with Ukraine, including over a border blockade by Polish truckers.

Tusk “has to restore Poland’s credibility in Brussels,” said Ewa Marciniak from the University of Warsaw.

“Poland’s return to the European mainstream was one of the main motivating factors for voters” who cast their ballots for the anti-PiS coalition, she said.

Since they came to power in 2015, PiS has been constantly at odds with Brussels, accusing the EU of weakening the sovereign rights of nation states.

Tusk has promised that those tensions will ease.

“I am sure that a majority of European leaders will now rely on the Polish position,” he said on Friday.

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