top of page
  • Piotr Jaworski

First 100 days of the new Polish government

It would not be an overstatement to say that the Polish parliamentary elections of 2023 marked a turning point in Polish political history. After eight years of rule by the quasi-authoritarian Law and Justice (PiS) party, the combined democratic forces managed to come out victorious. Despite the hardships of the broad coalition government and the need for decisive action against antidemocratic reforms enacted by PiS, Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the voters to hold the government accountable for their actions already after the first 100 days of office. These 100 days passed on 22nd March 2024. Therefore, let us examine the first days of the new Polish government, and whether it goes in the right direction.

Clearing after PiS

The unprecedented mobilization of voters, which led to an astonishing 74% turnout was caused by one thing in particular – hatred towards PiS. The previous conservative populist government lost any credibility among young voters and came last in the age group 18-29. Nearly all opposition parties focused mainly on fighting against PiS whatever the cost, which ultimately resulted in the construction of a broad coalition, comprising liberals, social democrats, conservatives, and agrarians. The primary challenge that the new ruling coalition faced was tidying up after the previous government.

Just a few days after the government was sworn in it struck a huge blow at PiS’s propaganda apparatus. The Minister of Culture Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz dismissed the PiS-appointed CEOs and members of supervisory boards of key public media companies. For this purpose, he used the provisions of the Code of Commercial Companies. This decision sparked enormous controversies for both political and legal reasons. PiS, furious after losing key propaganda networks, accused the new government of breaking the freedom of the press, beginning the construction of their new founding myth of being persecuted. Some constitutional lawyers expressed concerns that the actions circumvented not only the unconstitutional PiS laws but also the constitutional protection of public media. In the end, the courts agreed to register new supervisory boards. Similarly, the government won in the most important court – the court of public opinion. According to polls over 41% of people approved of the public media takeover, and only 35% (exactly the percentage of votes that PiS won in the elections) disapproved.

Another area in which the new government celebrates success is investigating scandals of the previous government. Out of tens of them, the coalition took decisive action concerning three in particular. Specialized investigative committees were established for solving the so-called Pegasus Scandal, Visa Scandal, and Mail Voting Scandal. The first investigates the cases of illegal surveillance of political opponents by PiS staff in the runoff to the elections. The second focuses on bribery in Polish embassies abroad, which reportedly were illegally selling Polish visas on market stands.  The last analyzes the embezzlement of public money dedicated to the presidential mail voting elections in 2020, which ultimately did not take place.

War with the President

The government seemed to underestimate the influence of the President. The second and last tenure of Andrzej Duda ends in late 2025, meaning that the current government will have a hostile president for almost half of its term. Notwithstanding, the coalition did not choose the path of conciliation, but rather confrontation. In December, just a few days after the government change occurred, the Warsaw Court of Appeal issued an arrest warrant for two PiS MPs and former Central Anticorruption Bureau heads Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik. Both were pardoned by President Duda back in 2015, long before any conviction, leading to the Supreme Court's opinion that the pardon was not issued correctly, and therefore devoid of legal effect. Parliament speaker Hołownia’s decision to deprive both MPs of their seats, while legally correct, antagonized the president further. In the end, the president issued a new pardon, this time correctly. Both convicts remained free, but the president and the government entered into a new phase of conflict.

The president believes that Kamiński and Wąsik are still legally MPs, and that speaker Hołownia’s decision was unlawful. On this basis, he questions the legality of the new parliament. This has dire consequences. When a new legislation is adopted, the president has three choices. He can sign it into law, he can veto it, or send it to the Constitutional Tribunal. To overrule the presidential veto, a supermajority of 2/3 in the Sejm is required. The ruling coalition does not have this majority, meaning that any vetoed law is effectively defeated. The Constitutional Tribunal is even more problematic. It remains hijacked by PiS appointees, some of whom serve their terms illegally. According to the international courts, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is not a court of law in its current state. It can, nevertheless, declare laws unconstitutional and defeat them. President Duda wants the Constitutional Tribunal to decide whether the parliament without former MPs Wąsik and Kamiński is a legal legislative body, and he is doing so by sending the majority of new legislation there. There are, however, some exceptions. For example, he vetoed a popular law that would allow women from the age of 15 to buy the morning-after pill themselves in licensed pharmacies. Today, to do so a doctor’s prescription is required for all women, and it remains so because of President Duda’s decision. This reform was one of the core promises of the ruling coalition, and the President’s veto proved problematic. The open war against the President, while justified, seems to cause more and more problems every day.

Failed promises

The new government managed to introduce some meaningful changes. In-vitro fertilization is now financed from the state budget, changes were introduced in public schools, and foreign policy switched to more pro-European. This, however, is just a fraction of what was promised. Out of 100 specific reforms planned for the first 100 days of the office around ten were introduced, leading to the public’s frustration. Some of the most pressing issues were not addressed at all.

The importance of abortion rights in Polish politics cannot be overstated. After the PiS-controlled Constitutional Tribunal enacted a near-total ban on abortion, the popularity of the party fell by ten percentage points and never recovered. Nonetheless, the new government did nothing to address the situation. Conservative speaker Hołownia ignored all bills regarding abortion rights for the first four months, fearing that his opposition to liberalization would cost his party popularity in the municipality elections. Here, the diversity of the ruling coalition rises as a significant problem. The partners are more divided than they want to admit, and this already impacts the performance of their promises.

Lastly, two issues generally omitted by Polish mainstream media should be underscored. The leading figures of the government, in particular Prime Minister Tusk, seem to have adopted some talking points of the populist right. While the foreign policy has become more pro-European, the policy concerning the European Green Deal remains generally intact. The majority of the MEPs representing government parties vote against any Green Deal initiative, and Prime Minister Tusk expressed readiness to veto the proposals in the European Council. This may be a tactic to appease the protesting farmers, but if so, new polls prove that it is completely ineffective. Similarly, the government continues PiS’s barbaric policy on the Polish-Belorussian border, breaking human rights, appealing to nationalist voters, and fueling anti-immigration sentiments. “The pushbacks are illegal from the perspective of the international law, but I will not take any action which would lead in an ill-considered way to our border becoming less sealed than now,” said Donald Tusk during one of the press conferences. Intentionally carrying out illegal actions does not fit a leader, who vowed to restore the rule of law in Poland.

What does the future bring?

The best conclusion would be to show the results of the municipality elections, which happened on April 7th. PiS won, gaining 33,7% of votes, just 1 p.p. less than in October 2023. In the second place came Tusk’s Civic Coalition (KO) with 31,9%. It is a significant failure, as the polls suggested that KO will win the elections. Similarly, KO’s government partners, the conservative-agrarian Third Way and social democratic The Left, performed worse than a few months ago. The cause? Demobilization of young voters. Less than 40% of those younger than 30 cast votes. Contrary to the opposition’s tale, simply getting rid of the PiS government is not a panacea. It becomes clear that the actions taken in the first 100 days are not enough, and the voters are giving Tusk’s government a yellow card. The democratic forces must rethink their approach, and make sure that they will not see a red one in the European elections in June.

9 views0 comments


bottom of page