Dr Raf Kochaj is a Neuroscientist working for a Conservative MP.
On Sunday 13th October, Poland will hold a general election. After years of communism and left-wing politics, it may come as no surprise that the two major parties are conservative. Despite this, Poland is yet to experience pure conservatism. Bizarrely, when elected to govern, right-wing leaders implement socialist polices.
Leading the polls is the anti-LGBT Law and Justice Party (PiS), a national-conservative movement led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, its controversial Chairman, and Mateusz Morawiecki, the Prime Minister. In 2015, PiS became the first party to win a parliamentary majority since the collapse of communism.
In second place is the Civic Coalition (Civic Platform et al). Once led by Donald Tusk, the party now has Grzegorz Schetyna at the helm. The Civic Platform traditionally attracts middle-class voters, and is usually backed by businessmen, academics and managers. The centre-right party is often described as liberal-conservative, pro-European and pro-business. Nevertheless, in recent years it has moved to the left on both economic and social issues; for example, despite pledging to limit taxation, it increased taxes when in Government.
In contrast, the ruling nationalist PiS strongly opposes a federal Europe. Indeed, it is borderline Eurosceptic. PiS recently faced heavy criticism from the EU for its anti-migrant rhetoric and judiciary reforms. Worryingly, Poland continues to decline in world press freedom rankings. Nonetheless, the party enjoys support among the rural and working-class constituencies. Many of the voters are attracted to Kaczynski because of his emphasis on dismantling the legacies of the communist state establishments and psychology. Whilst the Civic Platform aims to prioritise the economy, PiS spent their first term in office tackling corruption.
The Law and Justice Party also places great emphasis on traditional family values. For instance, the Government introduced the ‘500+’ programme to eliminate child poverty and boost birth rates. Under the scheme, parents receive a tax-free monthly payment of over £100 for their second child and any consecutive children until they reach the age of 18. Families are also eligible to receive the benefit for their first child if they are on a low income. Whilst popular with families, critics argue that the additional non-work income negatively affects the labour market and encourages laziness. Typically, conservatives would oppose long-term welfare. Indeed, many would say that it is more compassionate to encourage individuals to become self-reliant, rather than allowing them to be dependent on Government benefits.
In 2017, PiS MPs sparked further controversy by passing legislation that bans most retail trade on Sundays to allow workers to spend more time with their families. The Catholic Church praised the change, whilst pro-business opposition parties perceived it as an attack on commercial freedom.
With 460 seats in the lower house of the Polish Parliament (the Sejm), 231 seats are required for a majority. Moreover, 51/100 seats are needed for a majority in the Senate.
Although it is unclear whether the Law and Justice Party can win a clear majority, its un-conservative welfare programme and generous spending almost guarantees it victory. The PiS leadership proudly defends the reforms, declaring that they are in line with Catholic doctrine. Regardless of the outcome, the nation will inevitably remain deeply divided on social issues, especially on LGBT+ rights and abortion. Sadly, Poland has a long way to go before it elects its first true conservative leader; a believer in a free, open and tolerant society.