By Bartosz Węglarczyk
After all the calls for solidarity, unity and trust in the government during this crisis, the ruling party has exploited the coronavirus epidemic for its own electoral benefit. Following the example of Viktor Orbán, Poland is breaking away from Europe, moving further to the periphery than ever before.
It is not true that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government is 100% focused on the fight against coronavirus. It is not true that the safety of Poles is his only priority. The priority is to extract a second term for President Duda at any cost.
This is demonstrated by the behaviour of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in the early hours of Saturday morning in the Sejm (the lower house of Poland’s parliament). Changes to the electoral code were submitted in the middle of the night. Without debate. Without expert consultation.
It was a trap, because the amendments to the electoral code were added to a legislative package of measures to help the Polish economy survive the coronavirus epidemic. Opposition MPs therefore faced an impossible choice: they could either accept the changes to how the president is elected, or be accused of not caring about the fate of Polish employers and employees.
The upper-house Senate is now in the same situation. Either it will act quickly and vote through the economic-relief package – of course, removing the changes to the electoral code – or it will debate the issue for a month, as allowed by law. In the first scenario, PiS will reject the Senate’s amendments in the Sejm. In the second, the opposition-controlled Senate will be attacked for not wanting to help the economy.
It is the latest political ruse by PiS. Experts in the media and among political scientists will no doubt fawn over the strategic genius of Jarosław Kaczyński, the party leader. And it is true that PiS has been the most effective party at obtaining power in Poland’s post-1989 history. Except that obtaining power and acting for the public good are not always compatible, while gaining power and showing solidarity are always mutually exclusive.
The ruling coalition’s conduct has nothing to do with building national solidarity in the face of an enormous crisis, as the prime minister has so eagerly called for. The government will not gain new supporters in the fight against coronavirus in this way; the health minister will not be seen as rising above politics to protect the health and lives of families.
Polls indicate that the Polish government's response to #coronavirus, which has been among the toughest in Europe, has strong public support.
Meanwhile the health minister, previously relatively unknown, has become Poland's second most trusted politician https://t.co/aYMGzQNepU
— Notes from Poland ?? (@notesfrompoland) March 15, 2020
Hungary is following the same path, with the ruling party breaking the rules of democracy on the back of the epidemic. Kaczyński and Orbán are heading towards absolute power. Democracy has shrunk literally overnight in Poland. Voting through the amendments to the electoral code in this manner means there is simply less of it.
Poland’s marginalisation from the European Union is slowly become a fact. Yes, Orbán and Kaczyński rightly assume that during a pandemic complaining about the rule of law in Poland is not the first thing on the minds of anyone in Brussels, Paris or Berlin. However, embassies are working, experts are writing analyses, and the media are commenting on the latest changes to the law in Hungary and Poland.
Sooner or later, when the pandemic ends, Europe will return to work. Poland and Hungary will then be one step further from Europe. The ball, set rolling by PiS and Fidesz, is gaining speed. Soon no one will be able to stop it.
This article is translated and republished from the original with the kind permission of Onet. Translation by Daniel Tilles.
Main image credit: KPRM/Flickr (under public domain)