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Polish elections: a nation at a crossroads

Updated: May 23

Earlier this year, I covered the Warsaw marches that took place on the 4th of June, illustrating the passion for change in Poland. 

On October 1st, days before the most decisive election since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1991, the Polish capital saw the so-called 'March of a million hearts'; a final rallying cry before the election on October 15th. 

According to Politico, the Law & Justice (PiS) government chaired by Jaroslaw Kaczynski is still ahead of Donald Tusk’s opposition force – the Civic Coalition (KO) – by between 5% or 6%. And thus, the election is too close to call.

The rivalry between Donald Tusk and Poland’s Deputy PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski is well documented. This has been seen in the rhetoric pushed by both PiS and the State media broadcaster TVP. Most notably, TVP has released a documentary called “Reset”, led by PiS loyalist Jacek Kurski. This is an investigation into Poland’s “reset” initiative over relations with Russia, which was pursued at the very beginning of Donald Tusk’s premiership (2007-2014) and mirrors the diplomatic course at the beginning of the Obama Administration.

Put in a nutshell, the documentary argues that Tusk and his close ally, then Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, were being bullied by Russia and shoved under the bus by their almighty masters in Berlin, Brussels and the White House. 

Although there is a lot to consider about the diplomatic path pursued then, especially after the Russian attack on Georgia in 2008, it is important to remember that this reflected the diplomatic initiative of the US and European countries.

It is also worth noting the convenience of a huge media outlet, led by a PiS loyalist, publishing a dramatic documentary – complete with ominous music playing throughout – before a vital election. However, all it really comes down to is a criticism of the West’s diplomatic initiative after the election of Barack Obama as US President (2009-2017). This evident collaboration between the party in government and TVP has earned them the satirical title “TVPiS” from the Opposition.

The TVP debate went as predicted; Tusk attacked the Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and Morawiecki attacked Donald Tusk. As you can gather, it was extremely exciting. 

However Kaczynski, a man who has the ear of both the PM and the President, will not debate. This is likely because Donald Tusk is remarkably more liked than him and once delivered a romping to then PM Kaczynski in a head-to-head debate in 2007; just before Tusk won power for the first time.

Instead, Kaczynski is employing different tactics to foil his opponent of 20 years. Naturally, he welcomes TVP’s apocalyptic coverage of Tusk’s record in government; however, it is quite clear that PiS are attempting to sabotage and draw out the vote on October 15th. 

You see, PiS have done their utmost best to try and hold multiple referendums on the day of the parliamentary elections – a move which is undoubtedly intended to disrupt the election. 

Further, the referenda’s questions will likely be along the lines of “Would you like Poland to accept illegal immigrants?” or, “Would you like Poland to have weaker defences?”  These types of questions seamlessly fit PiS’s Anti-Tusk propaganda and have been trumpeted since Tusk reemerged in Polish politics. 

PiS are choosing to weaponize referendums to disrupt the election. This is what people in Poland have been marching against; the bending of democracy so that Kaczynski can prolong his rule. 

The question that follows is what this election will mean for the country.

For Poland, this election will decide whether the country continues to diverge from the European Union, or draw nearer again. It will also decide whether Poland becomes a more progressive society, or whether it sticks with its traditionalist Catholic roots.

The future and soul of Poland is on the ballot paper.

Personally, I believe that modern democracies could be strengthened by a more proportional and efficient electoral system. The use of the additional member system (AMS) in Germany and Scotland is an excellent alternative for many countries, including the United Kingdom, who have stuck with first-past-the-post (FPTP). The Polish system is a grand mish-mash of methods, given that it embraces a FPTP and a closed party list system. 

The National Assembly is made up of the Sejm (Parliament) and the Senate.  The Sejm is made up of 460 members elected through party lists for multi-seat constituencies. This means that the party assigns several representatives to govern a constituency alongside other parties. 

To elect anyone to the chamber, a party must achieve the electoral threshold of 5% (this rises to 8% for coalitions). This is a fair threshold even for smaller parties, and multi-seat constituencies arguably allow for other parties to govern. The biggest downside for elections to the Sejm is that unlike FPTP, the voters choose a party but do not know what individual they will be electing. 

Under AMS, the second phase does indeed elect several representatives to govern larger areas. For elections to the Senate, FPTP is used to elect 100 senators for 100 single-member constituencies, just like in the UK.

In my opinion, it is a flawed and outdated electoral system. Plus, a system like AMS, where a closed party list is replaced by proportional representation via the D’Hondt formula, is a much more open proposition. It is also far less about the parties picking and choosing. 

Let us hope that what lies on the ballot paper is the potential to re-energise democracy.

On that note, I encourage voters to abstain from voting in the referendums, which are designed to disrupt the election, but by all means cast your vote in the parliamentary elections.  

Above all, I encourage all eligible young people to go to the polls. The direction of Poland for the next five years will have a greater impact on them than on the current working population. 

Image: Silar

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