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  • Lilu Trondowski

Polish Parliament Elections Shows a "Decisive Shift"

Courtesy of Politico

“Do lokalu Wyborczego” (to voting site) was printed below a scarlet arrow, leading individuals through an empty parking lot and into a small building behind one of Boston’s South End parishes. Large groups of students crowded the entry but few people actually occupied the voting room, where voters were handed two pieces of paper: a 7” x 11” sheet with two Senat (upper parliament) candidates and a 18” x 24” sheet with over 200 Sejm (lower parliament) candidates. In a state with over 4% of its population being Polish citizens, 655 Dorchester Ave was the only location in Massachusetts where voters could cast a ballot in the 2023 Polish Parliamentary elections. Yet, this election was one of utmost importance both in and out of Poland. 

At the time of the election, the party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS – held governing power. In English, the party name translates to Law and Justice. Led by Andrzej Duda, the party is known to have a nationalist agenda, declaring that they “reject any attempts at cultural unification,” and share a clear opposition towards the European Union (E.U.). The term “Polexit,” based roughly on the widely known term Brexit for Britain’s E.U. departure, was even coined to describe the potential threat of Poland leaving the E.U. under the PiS government. PiS has spent its time in office sharing propagandistic material, using the widespread fear of illegal immigrants to incentivize a following in the party. This anti-immigrant sentiment ties directly to the party’s nationalist objectives. 

The opposition party, Platforma Obywatelska – PO – claimed a majority of the votes in the mid-October election. The English translation of the party name is Civic Platform. The party is led by Donald Tusk, the former Polish Prime Minister who served from 2007 to 2014. PO grounds itself in a mission of solidarity, emphasizing that “the state is supposed to serve the citizen, not the citizen to serve the state.” Although the party works primarily to ensure the growth and preservation of Poles’ wellbeing, it does not believe in doing so through the dissolution of ties with other European nations.

Tusk previously served as President of the European Council, a council of the European Union that “defines the general political direction and priorities of the European Union.” Born in 1957 in the Polish port city of Gdánsk, Tusk engaged in anti-communist protests during the Cold War era as a member of the Solidarity movement, Solidarność, both in his workplace and later underground. The imposition of Martial Law in 1981 drove much of the anti-communist movement towards more clandestine methods of organization as means of avoiding arrest, but did not stop people like Tusk from engaging in political dissent throughout the 1980s. 

Tallied votes from the election indicate a decisive shift in the political interests of the Polish masses. The anti-government movement garnered immense support, visible in the surge of protests that took place prior to the election, including an organized march through the country’s capital, Warsaw. The amassed number of individuals at the protest called “the march of a million hearts” exceeded any other organized event of anti-government expression since Solidarność rallies in the 1980s. The march welcomed Tusk as speaker, where he shared words of hope for a better Poland under PO leadership. Many of the opposition considered the PiS government to employ undemocratic tactics, inspiring Tusk’s call upon himself and fellow PO leaders to “repair the Republic of Poland... repair democracy.” 

The intensified political disunification may have been what inspired such immense turnout for the election. Close to 74% of registered voters made it to the polls, the highest number since 1919 during the first parliamentary elections for the Second Republic of Poland. This percentage topped even that of the first free elections held in Poland after the collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s. 

Growing stratification among Poles is most notable between rural and urban populations. The former lean more nationalist while the latter, many of whom moved from smaller towns into urban centers, show more support for centrist and liberal groups. Alongside this divide are also divisions of age and religious polarization between the largely older religious Poles and the younger secular Poles. 

A divergence in party support based on gender is apparent in this political environment as well. The subject of reproductive rights has led to even more dissent towards the Law and Justice party, specifically from women. Many Poles are experiencing a sense of intense unease and fear under the increasingly restrictive measures taken by PiS to eliminate abortion and overall maternal health. Monika Zachowaska, a resident of Warsaw, Poland, feels like “they are fighting for fetuses, not [her].” Doctors are afraid of performing illegal abortions, and have, in many cases, let women die as a result. Statistics have shown the consequences of the extreme fear under which women are forced to live: in Poland, fertility rates have reached their lowest since World War Two, majorly due to the diminishing access to reproductive rights that puts the lives of women at risk. 

However, some women have also found comfort in the family support plans instigated by PiS, arguing these to be of more importance than abortion rights as they benefit here and now circumstances of Polish everyday life. 

While the elections have not yet resulted in a clear removal of Law and Justice power, Tusk and the rest of the Civic Platform are working together to herald in the new vision for Polish democracy. 


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