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Will a Visa Scandal Sink Poland’s Populists?

Bombshell revelations show that Poland’s populist ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), has been vilifying immigrants and allegedly selling them visas in secret at the same time. The question now is whether the party’s base will hear about it before potentially historic parliamentary elections next month.

WARSAW – Poland’s parliamentary elections will decide whether Law and Justice (PiS), the populist party controlled by Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, will govern for a third term. Many regard the election as potentially historic, because PiS has made clear that it intends to follow through on establishing a system similar to the one Viktor Orbán has built in Hungary. The PiS slogan, after all, is “Budapest in Warsaw.”

Like Orbán, PiS has already used its time in power to take control of public and local media, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and all state-owned companies. In a third term, it would move on to the general courts, universities, cultural institutions, and NGOs. PiS’s electoral odds are high because it has used its control of public media to elevate itself while remorselessly vilifying the opposition. Following Hungary’s example, the authorities have also ordered a referendum in which Poles will answer four loaded questions that are designed to scare them into PiS’s arms.

For example, one question reads: “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, in accordance with the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?” Clearly, the aim is to invoke memories of the 2015 refugee crisis, when PiS came to power largely on an anti-refugee platform. Since Polish election laws do not prohibit state-owned companies from getting involved in referendum campaigns, PiS has used taxpayer funds to organize rallies and buy billboards pushing this question, thereby promoting itself under the cover of promoting the referendum.