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How the world views the Polish elections

17.10.2023 19:00
A review of press reports from around the world on Poland's recent general election. Much of the world's press views the election in traditional political terms of "right-wing" and "left-wing", missing some core issues.   
Polands 2023 general election.
Poland's 2023 general election. PAP/Darek Delmanowicz

Most international press reports assume that Poland's opposition parties will be able to form a coalition, however, cautionary words like "probably" are often included. The emphasis has been on the implications of the assumed shift in Poland's politics, rather than constitutional procedures.   

International implications

Naturally enough, most international outlets and agencies have focussed on continent-wide or global implications from the Polish elections. Bloomberg has said that Hungary's Victor Orban will now feel isolated, having lost an "ally in challenging EU values". 

Le Monde does not conceal its enthusiasm with the editorial headline "Poland gets back on track". The French daily stressed the expectation that EU relations will improve and tighten, writing:

It's also good news because the opposition, led by former center-right prime minister Donald Tusk, is committed to putting Poland back on the European track. The future government will break with PiS's virulent anti-German campaign, which led to a serious crisis between Berlin and Warsaw; relations with Paris will also be improved.

Right-wing / left-wing?

Several European newspapers, such as the Guardian and the Daily Mail, have characterised the election issues in terms of the traditional concept of political wings, referring to Law and Justice (PiS) as "right-wing" or "nationalist".

These characterisations fly in the face of the observation - a commonplace in Polish analysis - that Law and Justice's appeal is above all based on its welfare-state policies - making it a strongly left-wing party in at least one key area. (Professor Antoni Dudek, for instance, in a long interview on the history of Law and Justice pointed out that Law and Justice were unsuccessful when they ran on right-wing populist issues alone.)

Most international reports state or imply that Polish voters were mainly concerned with issues that are "hot-button" issues in many countries - e.g. abortion, immigration, EU relations. 

An exception is the New York Times which characterised the electoral contest as a fight between core values of "sovereignty" and "liberal values".

Like Al Jazeera, the New York Times mentioned that reducing poverty was a part of Law and Justice's appeal, but both outlets marginalised this issue as pork-barrel politics, referring to the massive increases in social spending as "handouts". 

local report in Poland from WP, interviewing small-town inhabitants of a pro-PiS area, indicates that voters are concerned above all with social benefits - child-support and pensions - under a future opposition coalition. Hardly any mention is made in the report of abortion, the EU, the Church or refugees. 

Free and fair elections?

Several news agencies and other outlets discussed the election in terms of Poland's level of democracy. The Guardian and Reuters among others discussed the OSCE report on the Polish elections:

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a rights watchdog, said Poland's election had not been entirely free and fair. "... The ruling party enjoyed clear advantage through its undue influence over the use of state resources and public media," said Pia Kauma, head of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly.

Sources: Le Monde, Reuters, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The New York Times, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg, WP