Poland’s ruling party has been widely accused of damaging the country’s democratic progress.
A Polish minister has insisted to Euronews his country’s upcoming election in October will be free and fair, despite warnings from observers and opposition politicians.
Minister of Digitalisation Janusz Cieszyński hit back at claims security concerns were being leveraged by the ruling Justice and Development Party (PiS) to influence the vote.
“If we don’t invest in our army right now, we might just end up paying for our enemy’s army that’s going to be stationed in Poland in the future,” he told Euronews. “This is how our history has turned out in the past, and we don’t want it to repeat.”
Poland was “under almost as much a threat as Ukraine” from Russian cyber attacks, Cieszyński continued.
Poland, once a satellite state of the USSR, recently beefed up its border security, deploying 10,000 troops on its frontier with Belarus.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki promised last November the country would have “the most powerful land force in Europe”.
Some analysts claim this defensive build-up is part of a political campaign before the upcoming elections, plus they worry about the cost.
“This government is playing, using the army to ensure security. Around this, politics is made, but this has nothing to do with security, it is to help the authorities maintain power,” Jaroslaw Kociszewski, a security expert at Kolegium Nowa Europa Wschodnia, Stratpoints, told Euronews in August.
Others have also warned about the impact of the newly passed Russin influence law, which they say could be used to silence critical voices.
However, Digitalisation Minister Cieszyński challenged these claims, saying it was something the opposition “always says when they do not have anything to attack us with.”
“If all we wanted to do was win the election, there’s a lot of candies we could offer to voters where you feel the sweetness a lot quicker,” he told Euronews at the Tallinn Digital Summit in Estonia. “We’re not doing that.”
“Military expenditure is super expensive,” Cieszyńsk added. “Personally I don’t think that the electoral return is very significant. This is a matter of Polish state interest of our security.”
Warsaw announced in January plans to ramp up defence spending to 4% of GDP, which PM Morawieck called “the highest percentage among all NATO countries”.
Some concerns remain among experts and observers, especially about the costs of this planned military expansion.
Training new troops and the recruitment pipeline will be a “challenge”, said Frank Ledwidge, a barrister and former military officer who has served in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
He noted the logistical and financial burden of a military build up, warning Warsaw could “be left with an awful lot of egg on their face” if it was not able to deliver on its promises.
Digitalisation Minister Cieszyńsk claimed: “Our opponents have no credibility when it comes to security and defence. They disbanded military units, they closed police stations. They rationalised this by saying that we don’t have the money.
“These elections are about choosing between the guys that work hard that have an ambitious agenda and those that always take the easy way,” he added.
Polls show the PiS, ruling since 2015, is currently the most popular party, but it is likely to fall short of an outright majority in parliament. It holds a small lead over a centrist bloc, the Civic Coalition, headed by Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and ex-president of the European Council.
Support for Tusk’s party has grown in past months but mostly at the expense of other opposition parties.
Poland’s opposition last month was condemned for allegedly using a deep fake voice of PM Morawiecki in an electoral advert.
The PiS has long been accused of eroding fundamental rights and freedoms that underpin Poland’s political system, especially the independence of the judiciary and media.
A damning report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) published in 2022 said the country’s democracy was losing strength and that key institutions were “severely backsliding”.
When asked by Euronews if he could guarantee the election would be free and fair, Cieszyńsk said “of course.”
“Our democracy is fairly young. But in this incarnation, there were never serious accusations about the elections being rigged in Poland. This has just never happened.”
“If someone says that we have growing authoritarianism, I need examples.”