Poland’s Right Won the Day, But Not the Future

New Parties and New Voters Make Themselves Heard

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Marowiecki in Warsaw, October 2019 Kacper Pempel/Reuters

When Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) first rose to power in 2015, some liberal commentators dismissed the populist upsurge as an aberration. For years, the governing majority party had allowed economic and social grievances to fester without resolution, and the resulting vacuum was easy for a newcomer to step into. Moreover, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski rode a wave of sympathy, because his twin brother, Lech, then the Polish president, had died in a 2010 plane crash over Smolensk.

Four years after its first electoral sweep, PiS can no longer be regarded as a fluke. Just last week, Polish voters delivered PiS a renewed majority in the parliament’s lower house, the Sejm. This latest victory was not a mistake, and there was little that the opposition could have done to prevent it. In fact, PiS attracted more than two million more voters in 2019 than it did in 2015, taking 235 of the Sejm’s 460 seats.

The right-wing party has a strategy that is working. Since 2015, it has become expert at enticing disadvantaged voters and ginning up fear. The party has doled out promises to retirees, farmers, blue-collar workers, and parents—first of three or more children, then of two, and finally of just one child. In 2017, before the European parliamentary elections, the PiS used the news channel it dominates to sow anti-refugee paranoia. In the lead-up to this year’s polls, it amped up conservative hatred and fear of sexual minorities.

The PiS has coaxed the wave of fear and hatred to new heights. The party has proposed a bill ostensibly meant to curb the “over-sexualizing of children,” but which in fact mirrors a “gay propaganda” law that Russia passed in 2013. The legislation stipulates that teaching basic sexual education to minors is punishable with a five-year prison sentence. Only a softened version of the bill will likely be voted on. But very fact that it has been proposed, as well as its timing, demonstrates that PiS now possesses a well-oiled and aggressive

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