Poles Square Off for Pivotal Election

Analysts say ruling party has moved against a fair vote
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 14, 2023 1:50 PM CDT
Poland Has Democracy, Rights on the Ballot
Workers hoist a campaign banner for ruling Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Friday in Sandomierz, Poland.   (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Poland is holding an election Sunday that many view as its most important one since the 1989 vote that toppled communism. At stake, the AP reports, are the health of the nation's democracy, its legal stance on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion, and the foreign alliances of a country on NATO's eastern flank that has been a crucial ally to Ukraine. Political experts say the election will not be fully fair after eight years of governing by a conservative nationalist party that has eroded checks and balances to gain more control over state institutions, including the courts, public media, and the electoral process itself.

Opponents of the ruling Law and Justice party fear it could be their last chance to preserve the constitutional system won through the struggle of Poles from former President Lech Walesa to the millions who supported his Solidarity movement. The election "will decide the future of Poland as a country of liberal democracy, a system that has been a guarantor of Polish success for the last three decades," the editor of the Rzeczpospolita newspaper wrote in a Friday editorial. Supporters of the ruling party are afraid that if Law and Justice is voted out, the opposition would take the country in a more liberal direction, including with new laws legalizing abortion and civil unions for same-sex partners. Women in Poland now have the right to abortions only in cases of rape or incest, or if there is a threat to their life or health.

Recent polls show Law and Justice has more support than any other party but not enough for the majority in Parliament it would need to govern alone, per the AP. "So we have this situation of two sides who think that these are very high-stakes elections, two sides very determined and energetic. The emotions are very high, but the playing field is not even," said Jacek Kucharczyk, president of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank. The main reason for the imbalance is Law and Justice's control of state media, which it uses to bash opponents, Kucharczyk argued. But other factors could affect the outcome, including the party's political control of the electoral administration and the chamber of the Supreme Court that will validate the election.

(More Poland stories.)

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