The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has questioned the role of the Polish Catholic Church in elections Sunday that saw the ultraconservative Law and Justice (PiS) party returned to power.
Driving the news
According to almost complete results published Monday, PiS won 43.8% of the ballots cast in the parliamentary elections.
The centre-right Civic Coalition, the main opposition party, picked up 27.2% of the votes.
The Left alliance won 12.5%, the agrarian PSL and anti-establishment Kukiz’15 won 8.6% and the far-right Confederation took 6.8%.
But the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which sent a Limited Election Observation Mission (LEOM) to Poland for the vote, denounced that “clear media bias as well as intolerant rhetoric” marred the otherwise clean elections.
Since taking power in 2015, PiS has pushed through anti-constitutional reforms to the country’s judicial system that have attracted the ire of the European Commission.
It has also commandeered state television and radio for its own propaganda purposes, and put its people into top jobs at state-controlled companies, among other democratic anomalies.
Some of those aberrations were listed in a ODIHR preliminary assessment of the elections.
“These elections were well organized ahead of the vote, but while voters stepping into the polling booth had numerous options available to them, their ability to make an informed choice was undermined by a lack of impartiality in the media, especially the public broadcaster”, said Ambassador Jan Petersen, Head of the ODIHR election observation mission.
“The use of discriminatory rhetoric by a number of leading political figures is of serious concern in a democratic society”, Petersen continued.
Why it matters
All through the campaign, Poland’s Catholic Bishops acted as a mouthpiece for PiS, particularly in its defence of traditional family values and vilification of the LGBT population.
“The ruling party’s platform and campaign highlighted the importance of the Catholic faith in preserving Polish traditions as well as the role the Catholic Church plays in building the political identity of the nation”, the ODIHR observed in its report.
“Several PiS campaign events observed by the ODIHR LEOM were organized inside religious institutions, and campaign materials of the party were observed on walls and fences of places of worship”, the OSCE Office continued.
“Public statements by Church officials echoed the political programme and messages of PiS, and in some cases explicitly discouraged voting for other parties.
“Many ODIHR LEOM interlocutors expressed concerns that the Church had an active role in the campaign, raising questions about the separation of church and state”, the ODIHR concluded.
Though the Church still commands broad support and respect in Catholic-majority Poland, more and more faithful are becoming frustrated with their bishops.
That irritation is likely to increase, now that PiS has returned to power.
In late September, for example, the International Catholic Reform Network – after its annual meeting in Warsaw – denounced that the Polish Bishops were not complying with Vatican instruction, and Church teaching, on the inherent dignity of LGBT people.
The Network complaint was followed by protests just this last week in Krakow and Szczecin over the “partisan politics” of the Polish Bishops.
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