The Polish Election: How Law and Justice Turned Voting Odds to Its Advantage

Poland will vote on Sunday to decide whether a political party accused of undermining the country’s democracy can remain in power, but the election, billed as the most important in a generation, has been clouded by concerns that it will be partly free and unfair.

Since it came to power in 2015, the right-wing populist Law and Justice Party has drawn ire from its European Union allies for politicizing the judiciary, turning the media into a party mouthpiece and stripping minorities of their rights. Opposition leader Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who also served as president of the European Council, has vowed to restore the rule of law in Poland and make peace with Brussels.

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After a campaign period filled with heated rhetoric and bitter accusations, polls showed a tight contest, with analysts predicting neither side would get a clear majority, perhaps leading to a coalition government led by one of them.

The outcome will be closely watched across Europe, where diplomatic spats with Poland have become an enduring source of division and anger, as well as in the United States, which has grown closer to Poland since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

But officials and analysts say what Polish voters really want is being distorted by state-controlled media, new electoral rules and a controversial referendum.

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The election has raised fears about the health of Polish companies. “We still have democracy in Poland, but thanks to our civil society, non-governmental organizations and local government, the opposition is relatively strong,” said Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaszkowski, who is associated with Tusk’s centre-right Civic Platform.

“We could argue that it’s still a democracy,” he continued. “But, of course, it’s completely unfair.”

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After eight years of consolidating its grip on the media, Poland was abandoned 18th to do 57th out of 180 countries In the World Press Freedom Index, Law and Justice was able to rely on a disproportionately favorable campaign, using public broadcasting and a network of regional newspapers to amplify attacks on the opposition.

Broadcaster Telewija Polska (DVB) – which is stacked with Law and Justice party loyalists and acquired this year 2.35 billion zlotys In government funding ($546 million) – it allocated 80 percent of its political airtime to the ruling coalition, giving only 20 percent to the opposition. Supervision of the Polish National Broadcasting Council In the second quarter of this year.

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TVP routinely downplays opposition rallies, including a large demonstration in Warsaw this month. City officials estimate 1 million votes will be cast. TVP reported 100,000 people attended.

When the ruling party was accused of issuing large sums of work visas — contrary to its tough stance on migration and leading to the resignation of the deputy foreign minister and other officials — TVP went with the headline: “Opposition deliberately lies in visa scandal: Poland FM.”

“The pro-government campaign has been going on for months, years, praising the government’s achievements and attacking the opposition,” said Piotr Buras, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Warsaw.

“Public media is an instrument of power,” Puras said. “It’s the same tool that was used in the 2019 election, but now it’s being used to the extreme.”

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Ahead of this vote, the number one target was Tusk, which was put out by law and justice leaders — and echoed by the public broadcaster — “The epitome of evil” and has a treacherous turncoat Keeping the interests of Russia and Germany Over Poland.

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A video clip played over and over shows Tusk saying “for Deutschland,” or “to Germany.” But the clip is a two-word cut from an innocuous message to Germany’s conservative CDU party in January 2021.

A controversial poll

The government has raised eyebrows by holding the referendum to coincide with parliamentary elections on Sunday. The ballot contains four loaded questions that are not tied to any policy proposals, but are instead designed to drum up support for law and justice while promoting misinformation about the opposition, Human Rights Watch And Other European visitors say

For example, one question asks whether people want to accept “thousands of illegal immigrants” from the Middle East and North Africa who have been “imposed” by “European bureaucracy”. Another question asks whether voters want to remove a barrier on Poland’s border with Belarus.

Michal Baranowski, managing director of Warsaw-based GMF East, part of the German Marshall Fund, said the referendum is a way to bypass campaign-finance restrictions because it uses state resources to disseminate unbiased election information.

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He said that using the state apparatus to support referendums is “another vehicle for financing campaigns” and “creates a difference in the amount of funds used by one party”.

For the referendum to be valid, 50 percent of voters must participate. Opposition leaders have called for protests. Wojciech Hermeliski, a former head of Poland’s electoral commission, said he would be “ashamed to participate”.

But simply adopting a plebiscite – which is given with the ballot for parliamentary elections – considered participation. Voters should actively reject the ballot paper – some observers worry that this could discourage people from participating in parliamentary votes or compromise the secrecy of the ballot.

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“There are real concerns,” said Malgorzata Ponikowska, head of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw. “Especially among those working in the public sector. But also those in business.

Changes in Election Rules

New Election Rules, Signed into law in MarchIt has increased the number of polling stations and mandated free transport on election day for elderly voters and the disabled.

The ruling party insists that these changes are being made to improve accessibility. The opposition argues that these measures will only increase voter turnout among the elderly and voters in rural areas – two demographics that are part of the core electorate of Law and Justice.

One group that supports the opposition most credibly is foreigners. More than half a million Poles living abroad are registered to vote in this election – the most in the country’s history. But there is a new requirement that overseas voting districts submit their tally within 24 hours of polling. Poland’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Marcin Wiecek warned It can disenfranchise voters.

Meanwhile, the government has refused to redistribute constituencies in line with demographic change, even though it is mandated by law. That means people in less populated rural areas have more voting rights. One group argues that city residents should vote in other districts Calculated Candidates in Warsaw needed 98,000 votes, while candidates in the agrarian east needed 74,000 votes.

And if the election results are challenging? It also highlights the further weakening of Poland’s institutions: the government has limited the independence of the National Electoral Commission and the Supreme Court.

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