(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s ruling nationalists clinched another four years in power to build a modern welfare state and complete a drive to impose their conservative ideology on all walks of life.
Riding a wave of support built on family handouts as well as the vilification of gays and the rejection of multiculturalism as an affront to traditional Catholic values, the Law & Justice party won Sunday’s election to keep its majority in the powerful lower house of parliament, according to almost complete results.
“The next four years is a key stage for building a Polish welfare state for all,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told supporters in Warsaw. “Today, we can say that the result gives us a huge social mandate.”
Law & Justice is planning to further tighten its grip on Polish society and institutions, having halted a generation-long drive toward the European mainstream. In the past four years, it has been repeatedly sued by the European Union’s executive for flouting the rule of law. Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin told TVN24 that he doesn’t expect “radical” changes in Morawiecki’s cabinet following the election.
The party won 43.8% of the vote, less than it polled in the run up to the ballot but far ahead of its nearest rival, the pro-European Civic Coalition, which garnered 27.2%, according to results with 99% of constituencies counted. In the Senate, Law & Justice appeared to win 49 of the chamber’s 100 seats, the election results show. Lacking control of the upper house can slow but not derail the ruling party’s legislative efforts, as a lower-house majority can overrule Senate amendments.
The Warsaw stock exchange’s benchmark WIG20 index dropped 0.6% on Monday, lagging regional peers, while the zloty gained against the euro.
‘We Deserve More’
Following the illiberal model embraced by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, ruling-party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has promised to use a second term to complete measures to gain more sway over the judiciary and to “re-Polonize” major industries and the country’s still largely independent media.
Kaczynski declared victory, although he signaled disappointment after the party didn’t win as much support as it did in European Parliament elections in May.
“We attained a lot, but we deserve more,” the party chief told cheering supporters. “Poland needs to continue its change, needs to change for the better. We face four more years of hard work.”
Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said the ruling party had just won a mandate to “finalize court reforms, which have been halted by protests and obstruction by the judiciary elites.”
With results still trickling in, the exit poll showed Law & Justice taking 239 of parliament’s 460 seats. Turnout was 61.1%, the highest for a general election since the 1989 fall of communism.
Law & Justice’s dominance may look like yet another clash in an EU member between forces allied to the bloc’s mainstream and the nationalist forces who are flouting its norms on the rule of law. But the party is adored by many of the country’s 38 million people, particularly in rust-belt regions like those in the U.S. and Britain that helped elect President Donald Trump and voted to leave the EU.
Kaczynski boosted pensions and introduced a 500 zloty ($128) a month child subsidy that helped pull those left behind by decades of transformation above the poverty line. The approach has helped keep annual economic growth at near 5% since 2017. Now the government plans to nearly double the minimum wage, a huge draw in a country where living standards are just over 70% of the EU average.
Morawiecki, who has vowed to “re-Christianize Europe,” has declared the ballot Poland’s most important since the fall of communism because it will determine whether the sweeping overhauls of the past four years take hold.
Still, Law & Justice won’t enjoy the unhindered power of Orban in Hungary, as it won’t be able to overturn vetoes from the president, with an election for that post due next May.
(Updates with loss in Senate, market developments)
--With assistance from Konrad Krasuski, Dorota Bartyzel, Maciej Onoszko, Piotr Bujnicki and Maciej Martewicz.
To contact the reporters on this story: Marek Strzelecki in Warsaw at firstname.lastname@example.org;Adrian Krajewski in Warsaw at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at firstname.lastname@example.org, Michael Winfrey
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