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Polish Politics

Authoritarian populism is an emerging force among voters across Europe and could be the defining political phenomenon of the next decade, according to a November 2016 survey conducted by YouGov. Poland ranked second on the list, with at least 78 percent of voters holding an authoritarian populist viewpoint, right behind Romania with 82 percent.

One of the biggest drivers for an increasing authoritarian populist viewpoint has to be the economic consequences of globalization. The concern is that mainstream political parties no longer offer a realistic prospect to people and their power, as well as influence, are declining. In the 1980s, the use of a new academic term “authoritarian populism” (AP) became common among some political scientists when describing the politics of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. This term was based on the theory that they and their supporters shared a core set of attitudes: cynicism over human rights, anti-immigration, an anti-EU position in Britain, and favoring a strong emphasis on defense as part of wider foreign policy.

For a time Polish politics was dominated by four major formations: Civic Platform (PO) and Law & Justice (PiS), which competed for power, as well as their potential coalition partners: Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and Polish People’s Party (PSL). The SLD and PSL had been present in the Sejm since the democratic breakthrough at the end of 1980s. The roots of both parties go back to the communist rule – SLD emerged from the ruling PZPR, PSL – from its satellite ZSL. During the two and a half decades after the fal of Communism, both would assume power, have their own prime ministers, and form coalition government.

The 2001 election marked the end of the historic division between the heirs of communism and the heirs of Solidarity. The fragmentation of the post-Solidarity right and center provided opportunities for populist formations to make gains in a context of continuing transition-anxieties.

The 2005 election in Poland saw the defeat of the incumbent government, but unlike previous elections, it marked the end of the Solidarity-successor party divide that had characterized Polish politics since 1989. The near simultaneity of parliamentary and presidential election campaigns made the campaigns indistinguishable, and each interacted with the other. Party programs were similar; transition-related issues dominated the election. Its unexpected victor was Law and Justice (PiS), which sought a radical break with the trajectory of post-communist development and a moral revolution in a new so called Fourth Republic. By 2010 Poles were fed up with politicians from the Roundtable era. All parties based the visual side of their campaigns on young or new candidates.

The 2007 Polish parliamentary election is best understood as a plebiscite on the polarizing right-wing Law and Justice party-led government and its controversial ‘Fourth Republic’ political project. Poland still had very high levels of electoral volatility and low electoral turnout, together with low levels of party institutionalization and extremely weak links between parties and their supporters. More than two million Ukrainians have come to Poland over the two years 2016-2018. Many politicians in the EU do not know this. It is not a question of quotas or the distribution of migrants, but of choosing the model of society in which we want to live. Poles see what is happening in the world — in Germany, France — where parallel societies exist that do not want to integrate because they are committed to different values. Poland welcomes Ukrainians because they are very likely to respect Polish values.

The 2015 parliamentary election resulted with the victory of Law and Justice (PiS) party. For the first time in the history of democratic Poland, the victor was able to create government without having to negotiate with coalition partners. The success of PiS seems to be a result of the combination of several factors. It would be mistaken to portray an emerging situation as a simple rightist win. PiS to some extent represents a social attitudes, typical for the socialist (social-democratic) parties, with some part of program including a populist message, but with the combination of conservative approach to several issues and nationalistic stand on perception of patriotic mood.

For no one is it a surprise or a secret that politicians do not enjoy too much trust. Few of them, including former and current presidents, prime ministers, ministers or even well-known deputies, enjoy particularly high trust of Poles. Although politics can and does appear in everyday discussions, it is rarely in a positive context. Unfortunately, words such as "politician" or "political" are rather treated as insults than expressions of appreciation for the work of a given person.

Despite all the criticism abroad, Poland's ruling PiS ("Law and Justice") government remained one of country's most popular governments since the collapse of communism in 1989. It had been credited with lowering unemployment levels, increasing public spending and its support of the traditional Catholic values that many Poles believe in. The party faced three consecutive years of elections. A local ballot will be held in 2018, a parliamentary vote in 2019, and a presidential election in 2020.



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