The success of the Law and Justice party in the October parliamentary elections in Poland was not a surprise. After 8 years of the liberal Civic Platform’s rule, the Poles voted for a change. It was the young who demanded a change most decisively. Two-thirds of Polish students casted a vote for one of the right-wing parties – Law and Justice, Kukiz’15, or KorWin.
The outcome of the 2015 elections is in stark contrast to the election results from four years ago when the Civic Platform and a radical left-wing party, Ruch Palikota (now known as “Twój Ruch”), gathered more than half of young Poles’ votes.
Most macroeconomic statistics indicate that Poland is experiencing her Golden Age. Since 2004 the economy has grown by almost 50%. The past four years alone have seen an average GDP growth rate of 3%. Paradoxically, news about Poland’s economic successes in national and international media has only bred more frustration. The young complain of not seeing the effects of this economic progress, feeling sidelined from Poland’s path to prosperity.
Despite the economy’s continuous growth for the past decade, youth unemployment has been consistently higher than the EU average, reaching 24% in 2014. Those in employment also lament their bleak economic prospects. “Rubbish contracts” (in Polish: umowy śmieciowe) have been increasing in prevalence among the young. These contracts, which allow companies to pay less tax, provide employees with no job security and no overtime pay. At the same time, young employees in more permanent positions are dissatisfied with the low wages that pale in comparison with their counterparts in Western Europe. The minimum wage in Poland is still less than a third of the wage in neighbouring Germany.
Janusz Korwin-Mikke’s party, KorWin, was the second most popular party among students. Korwin-Mikke, although infamously accused of racism and sexism in the European Parliament, has received his best election result yet. His promise of slashing taxation and limiting government bureaucracy proved to be popular among those dissatisfied with the Civic Platform’s moderate policies.
Since Poland’s entry to the European Union in 2004, hundreds of thousands of young Poles migrated to Western Europe in search of better employment prospects. In the past few years the rate of migration has slowed, yet tens of thousands still leave the country every year in search for better opportunities abroad. With growing discontent among the young, it is unlikely that the migration flow will come to a halt in the near future.
At the same time, the Law and Justice party, the most popular party among students, now holds a parliamentary majority. Their policies will determine whether the shifts in political attitudes of young Poles are reactionary, or whether they signal more permanent changes to the structure of the country’s electorate.