Lessons from the Fall of Poland’s Populists
The toppling of Poland’s ruling party this month marks the second important defeat for authoritarian politicians in the West since Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. The question now is what it might teach pro-democracy forces across the wider West as they continue to confront authoritarian threats.
WARSAW – Poland’s populist-authoritarian ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), was trounced in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, receiving just 35.4% of the vote compared to 53.5% for pro-democracy opposition parties. This marks the second important defeat for authoritarian politicians in the West since Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. The question now is what lessons it might offer for Poland, Europe, and other democracies.
As in the 2020 US presidential election, Poland’s election generated record-breaking turnout of 74%, up from 62% in 2019 – the highest since the fall of communism in 1989. Not only did PiS fail to increase its total vote count from the previous election (something Trump managed to do), but the three democratic opposition parties (like Biden) increased their votes by more than three million.
Although the election was technically free (meaning the votes were properly counted), it definitely was not fair. The deck was stacked so much in PiS’s favor that it would have made Hungary’s authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, proud. Throughout the campaign, the state-controlled TV channel – which commands a viewership of around 3.5 million, accounting for around 40% of the national news audience (of whom several million have no access to other TV channels) – pumped out PiS propaganda around the clock. Meanwhile, state-owned companies, including key utilities, spent as much on pro-PiS campaign ads as PiS itself did.