OSCE representatives, who have been monitoring the course of the campaign and elections to the Polish parliament in recent weeks, said in a statement that the elections “were held in a highly polarized atmosphere.” It added that “although freedom of association and assembly was respected in the pluralist campaign, this was undermined by the misuse of state resources.” It also wrote about the “erosion of checks and balances in order for the ruling party to gain further control over state institutions.”
On Monday, the OSCE published a statement on its website related to its mission to observe the parliamentary elections in Poland.
It was written that the parliamentary elections in Poland “were characterized by… record high voter turnouta wide range of political options and candidates able to campaign freely, but the campaign was marred by a noticeable overlap between the ruling party’s messages and the government’s information campaigns.” It added that “combined with distorted and openly biased coverage by the public broadcaster, this gave the ruling party a clear advantage, undermining democratic separation of state and party.
Elections ‘in a highly polarized atmosphere’
International observers said that “yesterday’s elections took place in a highly polarized atmosphere and were considered by many to be critical for Poland’s democratic future.”
“The joint observer mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded that the legal framework provides a sufficient basis for holding democratic elections. Although recent legal changes have included some previous ODIHR recommendations, their adoption took place shortly before the elections and without significant public consultations,” it said.
Special coordinator Pia Kauma said that “Sunday’s parliamentary elections, offering Polish voters various political alternatives, took place in a complex and polarized political environment.” She said “this resulted in a campaign dominated by a highly confrontational tone that regularly used inflammatory rhetoric and personal attacks on key party leaders.”
“Misuse of state resources”
The statement said that “while freedom of association and assembly was respected in the pluralist campaign, this was undermined by the misuse of state resources.” It said that “the overlap of the ruling party’s election communications with government information campaigns and state-controlled companies and their foundations, including regarding the referendum, gave the ruling party another significant advantage.” “In addition, the lack of detailed campaign financial reports before election day and ineffective referendum regulations had a negative impact on the accountability of political party and campaign finances,” it added.
According to the OSCE, “the period leading up to the elections was generally peaceful,” but “the campaign was highly confrontational and often negative, with candidates repeatedly using intolerant, misogynistic and discriminatory language, including anti-immigrant narratives from some parties that were at times xenophobic.” It noted that “personal verbal attacks on key party leaders were common.”
“Erosion of checks and balances”
The head of the OSCE PA delegation, Pere Joan Pons, assessed that “although the elections in Poland were competitive, we noted the erosion of checks and balances in order for the ruling party to gain further control over state institutions, including courts and public media.” He added that this “tipped the odds in favor, which meant that the opponent did not have a completely equal chance.”
Douglas Wake, head of ODIHR’s limited election observation mission, pointed out that “equality, inclusiveness and transparency are the key to good electoral administration and are essential for elections to fully meet democratic standards.”
He added that “while Poland’s electoral administration operated efficiently, transparency was unfortunately limited.” “More worryingly, we have observed that the ruling party and its candidates have gained a clear advantage by misusing state resources, undermining the separation between state and party,” he said.
Douglas Wake, already in early September, on the occasion of the beginning of the OSCE missionsaid that the day after the elections there would be a press conference during which “preliminary findings and conclusions” would be announced.
“The international mission to observe the elections to the Polish Parliament consisted of 154 observers from 44 countries, including 33 experts delegated by ODIHR and long-term observers, 94 parliamentarians and employees of the OSCE PA, and 27 from PACE,” the statement concluded.
Main photo source: Jakub Kaczmarczyk/PAP