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How Poland Won Back Its Democracy

The victory of pro-democracy parties in Poland's parliamentary election last month has become a beacon for other democratic movements. But the unlikely combination of propitious conditions that led to the downfall of the ruling Law and Justice party underscores the challenges facing democratic forces operating within authoritarian systems.

WARSAW – Pro-democracy advocates worldwide have turned their attention to Poland’s recent parliamentary election in search of the silver bullet that enabled Poles to defy global trends and oust their authoritarian populist government. But a close examination of the campaign leading up to last month’s vote shows that the democratic opposition’s stunning victory was made possible by an unlikely confluence of five key factors that cannot be easily replicated elsewhere.

First, leadership played a pivotal role. The political comeback of former European Council President Donald Tusk, who served as Poland’s prime minister from 2007 to 2014, rejuvenated the opposition. Much like US President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Tusk is a veteran insider who successfully challenged an authoritarian incumbent.

The baggage of Tusk’s decades-long political career was more than offset by the benefits of his vast experience. Like former US President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the outgoing Law and Justice (PiS) party, was relentless in attacking his opponents, especially Tusk, his longtime arch-nemesis.

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