October 2015 brought a political earthquake to Poland. For the first time since the end of communist rule, a single party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, or PiS), formerly in opposition, managed to gain an absolute majority in the general elections. At the same time, a bunch of extreme right-wing populists gained parliamentary seats for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, a liberal party that had ruled Poland for eight years (Platforma Obywatelska, or PO) lost over a third of its parliamentary seats and the government with it. The United Left, a motley collection of postcommunist leftovers, didn’t manage to win even a single seat, signaling its terminal demise. And a brand-new left-wing party, created and run by an anonymous collective of young people, almost made it to the benches despite not being able to afford a single television spot or billboard poster.
It is not surprising that the elections generated considerable media interest worldwide. What was surprising, though, was the media’s almost universal focus on the ideology of the victor, PiS, and the ruin it could supposedly bring to domestic and international politics. There was hardly a single positive mention of the party in the West (or in Russia, for that matter); well before the party had even formed a cabinet, or presented its leading personalities or its policies, the verdict was already passed.
The main criticism was that the PiS leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, could become a dictator. Since his party won an absolute majority, it would be able to appoint the prime minister, Speakers of both houses, the constitutional court, and other key posts (PiS member Andrzej Duda had been elected president a few months earlier). Yet the PO was in an identical position when it was in power. And during its rule, it worked with coalition partners to purge the public media, the state-owned enterprises, and the whole state apparatus of all but loyalists. As a parting gift, the PO even filled the constitutional court with its own
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