Poland’s ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), is placing a strong emphasis on migration from the Middle East and Africa in its upcoming electoral campaign leading up to the parliamentary vote in October.
A new referendum question has been introduced in Poland, concerning the EU’s policy on asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on the platform formerly known as Twitter (now referred to as X) that the referendum will ask Poles if they support the acceptance of “thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa” as part of an EU relocation scheme. The scheduled date for the referendum is October 15, which coincides with the parliamentary elections.
Despite welcoming over a million Ukrainian refugees, Poland has shown less openness to asylum seekers from countries with predominantly Muslim populations. In recent months, migrants from the Middle East and Africa have attempted to cross the Polish-Belarusian border, leading Warsaw to accuse Minsk of using vulnerable individuals for political gain.
Can PiS leverage the issue of migration once again for electoral success?
The PiS, Poland’s ruling party, aims to elevate migration as a central electoral concern, with the goal of countering the efforts of the opposition Civic Platform in gaining power. The Civic Platform, led by Donald Tusk who previously served as Poland’s prime minister from 2007 to 2014 and later as the president of the European Council, seeks to challenge the narrative put forth by PiS.
In the 2015 elections, the PiS capitalized on anti-immigrant sentiment to secure an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament, known as the Sejm. This occurred in a year marked by an influx of over a million asylum seekers to Europe, many of whom were fleeing conflicts in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
In June, the EU reached a consensus on critical asylum and migration laws within the bloc, which mandated member countries to either take in their share of asylum seekers or contribute to a collective EU fund. However, Poland, along with Hungary, rejected the EU’s proposal on asylum seekers.
The PiS has consistently linked Donald Tusk to EU migration policies, alleging that Tusk prioritized Germany over Poland. Certain segments of the Polish electorate still harbor anti-German sentiments rooted in World War II.
Tusk has commented that the proposal for a migration referendum reflects PiS’s concerns about their electoral prospects. Factors such as inflation and dissatisfaction with Poland’s strict abortion laws could potentially sway voters to support the Civic Platform in this election cycle.
Multiple referendums are scheduled for October
The PiS has set up additional referendums for October 15.
Another referendum will question whether Poles endorse the privatization of state-owned enterprises. PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has claimed that Germany seeks to influence Tusk’s role in Poland to facilitate the sale of public assets.
Deputy parliament speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska has criticized this referendum as a “PiS scam.” She pointed out the partial sale of state oil company Lotos, with Saudi Arabian state-controlled company Saudi Aramco purchasing some of its assets.
A third referendum slated for October seeks to determine if voters support raising the retirement age. The PiS had previously lowered the retirement age to 65 for men and 60 for women.
While serving as PM, Tusk endorsed increasing the retirement age for both genders. He later considered this decision a mistake in 2021.
The Polish government is anticipated to unveil a fourth referendum topic on the subsequent day, Monday.