Liberal Poles Anxious as Right Consolidates Power

The Law and Justice party is purging opponents from state agencies and threatening critical media.

Poles march in support of the Law and Justice government in Warsaw, December 13
Poles march in support of the Law and Justice government in Warsaw, December 13 (PiS)

Tens of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets in recent weeks to demonstrate both for and against the right-wing Law and Justice party that returned to power in October.

The conservatives’ rapid consolidation of power has startled liberal, mostly urban Poles, even though some of them switched to the party from the centrist Civic Platform in the last election.

Meet the new boss…

The latter was seen as having grown out of touch, but many expected Law and Justice to be more forward-looking and pragmatic this time around.

The last time it was in office, from 2005 to 2007, it presided over a deterioration of relations with both of Poland’s neighbors, Germany and Russia.

The party put on a new face in the election. The 43-year-old Andrzej Duda had already reclaimed the presidency for the right; Beata Szydło is now the prime minister.

Both are from a younger generation than the Kaczyński brothers who ran the country in the last decade and were able to expand Law and Justice’s support in the more cosmopolitan, traditionally Protestant west of Poland.

…same as the old boss

But Jarosław Kaczyński, the former prime minister, is still party leader and up to his old tricks.

In little more than a month, the government he leads from behind the scenes has purged political opponents from government agencies and state-run companies, including an attempt to remove justices from the supreme court; threatened critical media outlets; and suggested that the state should have a bigger role in deciding what arts performances are appropriate.

In the new government’s most audacious move yet, it staged a nighttime raid on a NATO facility in Warsaw last week to oust the Civic Platform-appointed management.

56 percent of Poles now feel their democracy is in danger, a recent poll showed.

Investors worried

Poland’s stock index has tumbled 17 percent in recent weeks amid fears that Law and Justice will reverse, or at least slow, fiscal consolidation efforts. The party campaigned on higher taxes for banks and supermarkets, many of which are owned by foreigners, to pay for workers’ benefits and protect pensions.

It also vowed to double the income tax threshold to help lower incomes make ends meet, a policy that would almost certainly widen the deficit.

The previous government reduced the nation’s shortfall from a 7.8-percent high in 2010 to 3.2 percent last year.

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