Polish ruling party unveils referendum question to let “ordinary Poles” not “German politicians” decide

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has unveiled the first of four questions it wants to put to the public in a national referendum. The remaining questions will be revealed day by day over the next three days.

PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński says that the referendum will allow “ordinary Poles” to decide what happens in their country rather than “German politicians”, who are trying to install opposition leader Donald Tusk in power.

✅ Dla nas zawsze decydujący jest głos zwykłych Polaków. Od dziś przez kolejne dni będziemy prezentować pytania referendalne. Pierwsze pytanie będzie brzmiało 👇#OddajmyGłosPolakom pic.twitter.com/CCzlol1gtq

— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) August 11, 2023

In June, Kaczyński announced that PiS would seek to hold a referendum on the EU’s proposed migration pact, which the Polish government is opposed to. In July, PiS pushed through legislation allowing the referendum to be held at the same time as this autumn’s parliamentary elections.

The referendum itself has not yet been called, with parliament set to consider the issue later this month. Nevertheless, PiS today published a video featuring Kaczyński unveiling the first of four questions the party wants to ask the public to vote on.

While up to now the idea of the referendum has been linked to the EU migration pact, the question announced today is on a completely different topic: “Do you support the sale of state-owned enterprises?”

“For us, the voice of ordinary Poles is always decisive,” said Kaczyński. “The voice of foreign politicians, including German ones, does not have any meaning.”

Poland’s ruling party has condemned the German leader of the European People’s Party for declaring his aim to „replace PiS in Poland”.

Government figures said it is an example of how German politicians want to help the opposition win this year’s elections https://t.co/82KO7xePBR

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 26, 2023

“Germany wants to install Tusk in Poland in order to sell off our common property,” added the PiS chairman. “We cannot agree to this. You will decide if the property of generations will remain in Polish hands.” PiS has regularly accused Germany of seeking to interfere in Polish affairs and of using Tusk to achieve this.

Opposition politicians and many commentators, however, immediately accused PiS of hypocrisy, noting that the government last year agreed the sale of state-owned energy assets – including a 30% stake in Poland’s only oil refinery – to Saudi Arabia’s Aramco and MOL of Hungary.

“A few months ago, [state energy firm] Orlen quietly, without a tender, sold significant parts of Lotos [another state energy firm] to the Saudis and Hungarians for a song,” tweeted economist Jakub Karnowski. “Now Kaczyński wants to ask ‘ordinary Poles’ whether they support ‘the sale of state-owned enterprises’.”

PiS figures, however, claim that, when Tusk was prime minister from 2007-14, he oversaw the privation of over 1,000 Polish firms. “Tusk’s plan was to privatise everything that moves,” wrote digital affairs minister Janusz Cieszyński. “The PiS government is about building national champions.”

Saudi Aramco and Hungary’s MOL have completed the purchase of Polish assets that was required for Orlen to take over Lotos

Aramco now owns 30% of the Gdańsk oil refinery while MOL is acquiring 417 petrol stations, making it Poland’s third largest operator https://t.co/bKiaevPux9

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 1, 2022

Many commentators have also criticised PiS’s referendum plans as a way of boosting turnout among the ruling party’s electorate on polling day.

“This whole referendum will be one big money laundering [operation] for PiS’s election campaign,” tweeted Tomasz Trela, an MP from opposition party The Left (Lewica).

A former chairman of Poland’s electoral commission, Wojciech Hermeliński, also criticised the conceptualisation of PiS’s question. Referendums should focus on specific issues rather than general policy directions, he told broadcaster TVN24.

But the head of PiS’s parliamentary caucus, Ryszard Terlecki, said that criticism of the referendum simply shows that “the opposition pseudo-democrats are terrified of democracy”.

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: PiS/Twitter (screenshot)

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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