The PiS is Taking Over
The PiS (Polish Law & Justice Party) was founded by Jarosław Kaczyński and his twin brother Lech Kaczyński. Not long after the party’s creation, Jarosław Kaczyński became the party’s chairman. Two years after that, Lech Kaczyński was elected president of Poland. The hand these two shared in the workings of the government led to a great deal of power being held by the PiS.
After the death of his brother, Jarosław Kaczyński used the party’s growing support to launch himself into the position of holding all power. Jarosław Kaczyński now has more say in the governmental operations than both the current president and the prime minister combined, all while having no official position in the government. This control is aided by the fact that the party controls both the Senate and the Sejm–the lower house of parliament, where Jarosław Kaczyński currently serves as a lawmaker.
As a lawmaker, Jarosław Kaczyński was able to find a loophole in the legislative process that–because the PiS controls the Senate–enables individual lawmakers to submit bills that bypass parliamentary debate. Using this loophole, Jarosław Kaczyński has been able to pass nearly every bill proposed by the PiS.
The PiS intends to reform the Supreme Court so that the court would no longer have Judicial independence, but instead the party would put their own members into the court. This would remove the court’s ability to monitor election fraud, so that the PiS could ensure that they would continually be put in power without facing any repercussions.
A primary sign of democratic backsliding is executive aggrandizement, when “executives slowly weaken checks on their power through legal and ‘democratic’ channels” (Barney 2021).
The PiS is guilty of this by silencing every competing voice, leaving only their own.
While Poland has had politicians of other parties take official office, the PiS has made it nearly impossible for them to act, making themselves the only active voice in Polish politics. There has been no need to extend term limits, or make any other obvious modifications to the constitution because the positions that are being voted for have virtually no importance in the government.
Where is democracy when this is the case?
Populism’s Rise Through Nearly Legitimate Means
A “populist far-right party” is how the PiS is being described by onlookers around the globe, and Jarosław Kaczyński is looked at as the poster child for a populist leader.
Populism is often characterized by an individual group that labels themselves as “the people”. This group sees the elites as an antagonistic force, being less than “the people”. The populist group does this with the intention of making themselves the only voice that is heard. Populism is usually led by a dominant leader that claims that they are the only true voice of the people. Because they are believed to be the only ones that can justly represent the people, any opposing idea that contrasts the populist leader’s regime is condemned for being “against the people” or “not of the people” (Mudde 2021).
The most troubling thing about populist leaders is that they often come to power through completely legitimate means. They are often elected by popular vote, or other fairly democratic mechanisms. This makes it difficult to prevent their rise to power.
The interesting thing about Jarosław Kaczyński, however, is that he came to power through loopholes. He didn’t ignore the system, but rather he manipulated it to his advantage–intending to eventually render it useless. In a way the party followed the expected populist path to power, because they were voted for by a slim majority. However, Jarosław Kaczyński didn’t necessarily follow the normal populist leader’s path of coming to power through legitimate means. Instead, he negated any official individual political title, and went straight for implementing the party’s agenda. He followed no real path to power, but instead bypassed the political structure altogether.
Is There Any Salvaging Poland’s Democracy?
A primary problem with Polish political parties is that there is much division between the parties outside of the PiS that the PiS faces no real competition. All the competing political parties are so divided that the smaller competing voices are silenced. The only way that the PiS could ever face any real threat would be if the other parties joined together into a larger party than the PiS. If they were to do so, there might be some hope of maintaining democracy. As it currently stands the PiS is supported by roughly 37% of the population. So, a singular cause for hope of reattaining Polish democracy would be for the competing parties to unite, which is unlikely considering all of the competing voices and ideologies that comprise them.
This joining together of the opposing parties would have to occur sooner rather than later if there were to be any further hope for recovering democracy. The longer that the PiS is in power, the less likely it is that competing voices will matter–as they are attempting to change the checks and balances in the judicial system as we know it to allow for keeping themselves in charge (Przybylski 2018). If this were to take place, it is unlikely there would be any hope left for democracy in Poland, especially if they go beyond this to ensure future control.