Poland went to the polls over the weekend, choosing a new parliament after its presidential election earlier in the year.
The vote was a victory for the nationalist and conservative Law and Justice party, which now holds both the presidency and more seats than any other party in parliament.
From a Europe-wide perspective, something else interesting happened. According to the exit polls, it seems that no centre-left or left-wing party has gained any representation in the parliament. That’s a pretty amazing first for the country.
The last time a centre-left coalition won an election was in 2001. Since then it’s been a competition between two (very different) parties on the right-hand side of the political spectrum. Law and Justice battles for the top spot with Civic Platform, a more liberal but undoubtedly centre-right party.
Though many former eastern bloc countries have had successful conservative parties, none of the other formerly communist countries that joined the EU in 2004 have seen their social democrats and leftists completely destroyed at the polls.
The centre-left is suffering in the rest of Europe too. Another excellent post from Chris Hanretty shows that on a population-weighted basis, social democrats in the former EU15 are seeing their worst performances since the 1960s. Without weighting for population, they haven’t performed worse at any point in the post-war era.
After an optimistic start to 2015, the harder left is struggling. Late last year in Greece, the victory of radical Syriza made it seem like the continent might be heading for a bit of a socialist revival. The minor coalition of left-wing parties had built up massive steam during the country’s economic crisis.
Less than a year later, Syriza has been neutered. Although the party still governs, it’s had to accept its own painful European bailout deal. The hard-left Popular Unity that split from Syriza, in protest at the austerity measures, didn’t even make it into the Greek parliament.
Without a change in its fortunes, it seems like Spain’s left-wing Podemos has peaked too. Early in 2015, it actually had a polling lead, beating both the mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties.
Since then, it has slowly but constantly declined. Polling averages now put the party in fourth place, behind centrist Ciudadanos as well as the two major parties.
The situation in Portugal now looks altogether more complicated. The mainstream centre-left party didn’t manage to get the highest proportion of votes or seats in the 2015 election, something polling had suggested they would for a long time. However, with the support of the Communist party, they may be able to cobble together a left-wing coalition. It’s complicated — this article from Ambrose Evans Pritchard suggests that the EU has effectively prohibited a left-wing alliance, while political scientist Chris Hanretty thinks he’s got it wrong.
In France, though the socialist party governs, it’s hard to find the socialist policies these days. President Francois Hollande has been incredibly unpopular, and figures like economy minister Emmanuel Macron have marked a significant drift rightwards.
Similarly, though Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi heads a progressive party, his economic reforms are more associated with the centre-right. Germany’s social democrats are still miles behind the governing Christian Democrats in the polls.
Not every left-wing party in Europe is likely to be wiped out like Poland’s — but it’s hard to see where any of them are doing particularly well.
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