Poland’s PiS well-placed to retain power in weekend poll
Ahead of the 2015 general election, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his Law and Justice (PiS) party promised voters that they would introduce a generous infusion of cash for families with children.
“I didn’t really believe they would deliver on their promises,” Adam Kowalczyk said, an electrician with three children who was struggling with debts.
Between 2016 and 2018, GDP growth accelerated to 4.3 per cent, employment rose by 2.5 per cent and unemployment dropped to a record low of 3.9 per cent. Inflation rose, but it remains below 2.5 per cent.
PiS overhauled the economy and built a floor under lower-income families, proving highly popular with voters.
Sunday’s general election will test the popularity of the PiS social welfare model that blends nationalism and progressive policies.
In Brussels, PiS has faced criticism for taking a grip on the judiciary, limiting the freedom of speech and the media and for its refusal to assist during the migrant and climate crises by subsidising coal power.
“These guys are trailblazers in showing that you can marry a kind of right-wing populism with left-wing economic politics,” said Mitchell Orenstein at the University of Pennsylvania.
Orenstein said it would be a mistake to dismiss what PiS had achieved economically.
“What’s impressive about this government is not only how it increased social spending in ways that are universal, but also hit its constituency,” he said. “And it has done it while keeping the deficit low, and is now actually trying to balance the budget.”
Poland’s fiscal deficit declined to 0.4 per cent last year from 2.7 per cent of GDP in 2015, and public debt fell to 48.9 per cent from 51.3 per cent.
PiS has expanded the child credit programme to approximately US$125 per child each month and it has boosted pension payments and scrapped taxes for those under 26.
The populist party has recently promised to almost double the minimum wage, to around US$1,000 per month along with other spending pledges.
The party leader Kaczynski said: “A person whose pockets are empty is not really free.”
Plans to raise the minimum wage would end the “post-colonial concept of Poland as a source of cheap labour”.
The price tag for the election promises is almost US$10 billion per year.
The Lewiatan business lobby group and 54 other business figures wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warning of the tax burden facing employers.
Morawiecki said spending was part of PiS plans to reshape Polish society.
“The changes we started four years ago were fundamental and quite revolutionary,” Morawiecki said this summer. “It was a revolution in the economy, in terms of social policy, redistribution, if you want, of goods and services and money, and the promise to do more. To repair all the flaws from the post-communist era.”
PiS head Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Picture credit: Wikimedia