University of California, Los Angeles

Is Poland’s Government Taking a Step in the Wrong Direction? by Lana Frazier @ UCLA

Throughout the end of the 20th century Poland made several significant changes including shifting from communism to democracy and joining the European Union. Proceeding 1989 Poland seemed to have finally taken a step in the right direction as they brought an end to communism and began to form a democratic government. They also joined the European Union in 2004 which greatly helped them improve their country both economically and politically. The European Union agreed to a “20-year, 229 billion-euro ($250 billion) aid package,” in which Poland would use the money to improve their economy, buildings, roads, and other infrastructure. Yet, in 2015 when populist Andrzej Duda, of the Law and Justice party, was elected as the new president Poland’s democracy seemed to take a step backwards. Ultimately, populism has become a critical issue that is leading to democratic erosion in Poland through the weakening of checks and balances, the passing of controversial laws, and the infringement on human rights.

As the 2015 election approached many Poles were in favor of Andrzej Duda because he appealed to the common citizen by making false promises and advocating for change. Many citizens were unhappy with the way wealth and benefits were distributed and hoped that Duda was the solution to the problem. He claimed that if elected he would make changes to improve the quality of life for the average citizen.Yet, once Duda won the presidency he began driving the Polish government away from democracy and towards an authoritarian government primarily by, “weakening institutional checks and balances” (Weyland, Kurt. “Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift”).

He first targeted the “constitutional court and the public broadcasters” by strategically ensuring that both entities were full of his supporters. By doing this, Duda was able to gain control of the officials that have authority over constitutional laws. His control over the constitutional courts have allowed him to greatly influence which laws are deemed unconstitutional. This is one example of how Duda has weakened the system of checks and balances because he has manipulated the constitutional court so that it is likely to make decisions in his favor.

Similarly, Duda has also ensured that the majority of public broadcasters are filled with representatives that agree with his political platform. As a result of this, the media is biased in favor of Duda and only portrays him in a positive manner. Duda has manipulated the public broadcasting system in an attempt to hide his corrupt political practices from citizens. He has done this to create a facade in which citizens think that he is a genuine leader, while he is moving the country toward an authoritarian regime.

In addition, Duda has become very difficult and has begun to work against others in the government oppose to with them. According to Wojciech Moskwa and Marek Strzelecki Duda vetoed two of three judicial bills from his allies then advocated for proposals against the bills which decreased the emphasis placed on controversial issues, “such as forcing all Supreme Court justices into immediate retirement.” This portrays democratic erosion in Poland because Duda has failed to value controversial issues and infringed upon the basic human rights of Polish citizens by forcing supreme court justices to retire.

Similarly, Duda has also, “Refused to swear in three Constitutional Court justices legally selected by the previous parliament, where his political opponents had a majority, instead opting to pack it with Law & Justice’s appointees.” Yet another example of how Duda is weakening the checks and balances of the government by ensuring that he has complete control over all branches. This is a clear instance of democratic erosion in the sense that Duda is not following legal procedure yet making his own decisions so that he can gain complete control of the government by having members of the Law and Justice party control everything. He is essentially stripping the country of its democracy by eliminated all opposition and created an authoritarian regime that is only in favor of his views.

Overall, Polish people are struggling to combat the rise of an authoritarian government because Duda is gaining an increase in power by eliminating all opposition from the Polish government.  Ultimately, the Law and Justice party is threatening democracy which has led to widespread protesting among citizens in which people fear that they may lose their freedoms and way of life.

For instance, according to Adam Bodnar, the Polish ombudsman, “If the planned overhaul is implemented, it will dismantle the safety valves protecting human rights.” Ultimately, the democracy days will be over and Poland will head towards an authoritarian government with will take away the citizens rights and essentially lead to a dictatorship in which the government will only advocate the ideals of the Law and Justice party.

As a result of this Poland has been suffering and its citizens have resorted to taking action in the streets through protests and resistance. Yet, even citizens rights to freedom of speech are becoming limited as the government has begun interfering and doing whatever it can to stop allowing its citizens to speak out in favor of democracy.  To say the least, populism has led to democratic erosion through Duda’s claims to help bring change for ordinary citizens when in reality he is creating an authoritarian regime that only implements his own interests.

Works Cited

“How Poland’s Government Is Weakening Democracy.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 25 July 2017, www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/07/ economist-explains-25.

Moskwa, Wojciech, and Marek Strzelecki. “Poland Is Cutting the ‘Last Fuses’ on Democracy, Official Warns.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 22 Oct. 2017, www.bloomberg.com/news/ articles/2017-10-22/poland-is-cutting-last-fuse-on-democracy-rights-advocate-says.

Moskwa, Wojciech, and Rodney Jefferson. “Poland’s Populist Turn.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 2 Feb. 2016, www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/poland.

Weyland, Kurt. “Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift.” The Threat from the Populist Left, vol. 24, no. 3, July 2013.

“Photo by “Call for EU Action to Safeguard Democracy and Fundamental Rights.” European Civic Forum, 26 Jan. 2016, civic-forum.eu/en/civic-space/call-for-eu-action-to-safeguard-democracy-and-fundamental-rights.

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