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Politics & Government

Conservatives Gain Control Of Poland's Parliament In Historic Election


The refugee crisis in Europe has, not surprisingly, become an issue influencing voters. Poland is the latest example. The country held parliamentary elections yesterday, and a nationalist opposition party is the big winner. It appears that the Law and Justice Party will have the absolute majority - the first time that's happened since the end of communism in Poland in 1989. To talk about the implications of this election, we're joined now by The Wall Street Journal's Martin Sobczyk in Warsaw. Welcome to the program.

MARTIN SOBCZYK: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And this election is being called historic. Why?

SOBCZYK: It is historic because for the first time, a single political party won more than half of seats in the lower house of Polish Parliament. And also, and perhaps even more importantly, it happened at a very sensitive time in Europe's history, really, when it's faced with the migrant crisis, the Russia-Ukraine crisis in the East. And the Law and Justice Party comes in with very feisty language, sometimes very politically incorrect language, and the change is happening at an extremely important time.

SIEGEL: If the next government is going to be a very anti-migrant government - and one of its most important leaders said last week that migrants carry dangerous diseases into Poland for the first time in years - what does that say about the likely relations between Poland and the rest of the European Union or Poland and Germany, for that matter?

SOBCZYK: Well, the relationship between Poland and Germany will probably be more shaky considering that the Law and Justice Party is quite outspoken, and that relationship will be a little rougher than before.

SIEGEL: The Law and Justice Party that won the election so handily is often described as a far-right party. It seems to be a very complex mix of different kinds of positions.

SOBCZYK: It's a huge mix from socialism to tea party-style conservatism. So it's borrowed from all these various ideologies. They want higher pensions and childcare benefits. They want all the elements that a typical European socialist party would want. And on the other hand, it's very conservative in its worldview when - in ethical questions against same-sex civil unions, let alone gay marriage. So it's a hybrid political party that likes to think of itself as a conservative party and a right wing party when, in fact, it's a mix of ideas.

SIEGEL: Poland was the rare spot in the European Union that didn't fall into the recession of 2008. It has seen a huge economic growth in the last seven years. But there's a lot of discontent, obviously, there about the economy. Why? How do you reconcile all that growth with such a big protest vote?

SOBCZYK: Well, just think of your take-home pay. If it's at $750 a month, that's not really a lot. It's become, really, the focus of the public debate here, especially when you realize that more than 2 million people have left Poland over the past 10 years. And Poland is a country of 30 - was a country of 38 million - so 2 million people, and all those people are in their 20s, 30s, 40s. So it's a huge issue and definitely central to Poland's discussion of itself - like, what it wants, where it wants to go from here.

SIEGEL: OK, Martin. Thanks for talking with us today.

SOBCZYK: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: That's Martin Sobczyk of The Wall Street Journal in Warsaw. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.