Polish Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party Jaroslaw Kaczynski speaks during the Law and Justice party's congress at the Education and Recreation Center in Marki, near Warsaw, Poland, 04 June 2022. EPA-EFE/Radek Pietruszka


Poland’s ruling PiS targets Tusk with series of election-day referendum questions


Poland’s Conservative ruling PiS party leader has decided to table more than one question at a referendum on October 15, the date of the Polish general election, in a bid to put clear blue water between his party and the Liberal PO opposition led by Donald Tusk.

Originally there was to be just one question, regarding the European Union’s Migration Pact. It is intended to remind voters that the PiS has rejected the relocation of migrants, which the previous Liberal government had accepted.

PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński tweeted on August 11 that one of the questions Polish voters will be presented with relates to privatisation: “Do you support the sale of state companies?”

The PiS is opposed to any further privatisation and has during its term in office, for instance, taken a major bank into public ownership. The Liberals have argued for privatising most of Poland’s remaining state companies.

Kaczyński and his party make no secret of the fact that in holding the referendum they are attempting to remind voters of what the PiS sees as major policy differences with former prime minister Tusk’s PO, whom the PiS alleges acts as a mouthpiece for German interests.

“Germans want to have Tusk in Poland to sell-off our common assets and his advisers don’t bother hiding the fact,” said Kaczyński.

He justified the referendum by saying that for his party it is the Polish people’s views that matter. “For us, the decisive voice is that of ordinary Poles. The views of foreign politicians, including those from Germany, do not matter to us.”

That was an allusion to recent comments by German European People’s Party (EPP) leader in the European Parliament MEP Manfred Weber, who said that the return of Tusk to power in Poland would guarantee that the country remained a democracy and a part of the EU.

According to sources close to the PiS, over August 12-14 there will be announcements revealing other questions to be put to voters on October 15. It is likely they will cover the age of retirement and the handing of competence on forestry policy to the European Commission.

The plebiscite on the retirement age is designed to jog voters’ memory: the ruling Conservatives overturned an unpopular reform pursued by the previous Liberal government that increased the retirement age to 67 for men and women. That is now back to 60 for women and 65 for men.

The question about forestry refers to signals coming from EU institutions that they want to take away forestry control from Member States. The previous government had been considering allowing that to happen.

Poland, which has large forests, currently has a system of public ownership of such land, which is a popular position among the public.

Sources close to the PiS say party members do not intend to touch on issues relating to Poland’s constitution, such as keeping the zloty as the Polish currency, the protection of the right to life, and the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Kaczyński is presenting the election as a test to see whether Poles want Tusk back. The referendum questions are designed to remind voters of the differences between the PiS, which claims it is fighting for Polish interests, and Tusk’s Liberals who are portrayed as being actors working on behalf of German interests.