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This holiday week we’re reprising some of our lead stories of the past year, ones that illustrate ongoing trends in their respective regions. DailyChatter reports on more than 150 countries every year in every region of the world, and we feel many of those stories deserve another look.
Today we take you to Europe, where elections over the past few years have ushered in far right leaders – in Italy, for example – or where the far right have made increasing gains (Germany, the Netherlands, to name a few) and led to handwringing among European Union officials, who believe the far right is becoming mainstream, the Washington Post noted.
In Poland, however, voters have shown their longtime populist, euro-skeptic leaders the door this year, to the dismay of populists and nationalists around the continent.
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The results of the Oct. 15 parliamentary elections in Poland are still echoing throughout Europe.
Women and young voters helped swing the election to the Civic Coalition and other parties opposing the ruling Law and Justice party, a populist political group that espouses conservative Catholic values and skepticism about the European Union, wrote the BBC.
Law and Justice (or PiS) is still the largest party in parliament, with a 35 percent share, reported Reuters. Now the task of governing falls to Civic Coalition leader Donald Tusk, a former prime minister and ex-president of the European Council, a key EU institution.
Tusk recently notified Polish President Andrzej Duda, an ally of Law and Justice, that he had assembled a majority of lawmakers into a coalition that would appoint him as premier, Politico explained. And on Dec. 11, Tusk became the country’s leader after the newly elected parliament rejected Law and Justice’s longshot bid to retain power.
Now, the new government is expected to make choices that will reverberate throughout the continent, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Tusk will draw Poland closer to the EU, send a strong signal to Russia that it supports progressive Western values, and curb the spread of so-called “illiberal” policies.
Last week, Tusk shut down the Polish state TV channel TVP Info and replaced the leadership of TVP, Polish Radio and the Polish Press Agency in a move to restore freedom of the press, the BBC reported. All three had been considered propaganda tools for the Law and Justice party. Parliament also backed a resolution calling for independence, objectivity and pluralism in public TV and radio.
Law and Justice has been accused of using their years in the majority to weaken democratic institutions like the judiciary and the free press, while consolidating their hold on state media and every other institution in government. For example, the Financial Times wrote that the state-run broadcaster spewed absurd pro-government propaganda before the vote, recalling a news ticker headline – “The opposition’s proposals for Poles: worms instead of meat.”
Meanwhile, the former government’s moves have brought it censure from the EU.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Anne Applebaum told Visegrad Insight that the election was basically unfair due to government manipulation, yet Tusk and his allies still won. Bulgarian geopolitical thinker Ivan Krastev wrote an op-ed in the Guardian similarly arguing that Law and Justice’s ploys to win enough support to keep its majority failed. Instead, a strong turnout – the highest in 30 years – helped propel the opposition to its strong showing.
Now, one of Tusk’s main jobs will be to dismantle this legislative framework, administrative machinery, and election apparatus, not an easy task. “A deeply entrenched populist system, a president loyal to the Law and Justice party, a puppet Constitutional Tribunal and Supreme Court – these are just a few of the problems a new government would face,” Polish journalist Jaroslaw Kuisz and historian Karolina Wigura wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times.
In the meantime, this move from a populist to a more centrist government is potentially bad news for Russian President Vladimir Putin, noted CNBC. Poland has resisted Russian influence since the end of the Cold War. Now, however, a key anti-Russian voice is also going to be far more accepting of pan-European efforts to counter Russian forces in Ukraine and elsewhere.
The bureaucrats in Brussels must be happy.
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