A Visa Bribery Scandal Could Upend Poland’s Elections

A Visa Bribery Scandal Could Upend Poland’s Elections
Opposition leader Donald Tusk speaks during a campaign rally, Warsaw, Poland, Oct. 1, 2023 (AP photo by Rafal Oleksiewicz).

The streets of Warsaw pulsated with pro-democracy fervor Sunday, as Poland’s political opposition sought to energize its supporters ahead of the Oct. 15 election, a contest many view as the last chance to bring the country back from the brink. After nearly a decade in power, the ruling Law and Justice party has undermined Poland’s democracy and its compliance with the European Union’s norms on rule of law. Organizers of Sunday’s Million Hearts March say they reached their goal, with a million people coming out in the capital and other cities around the country. State-run television, loyal to the ruling party, barely covered the demonstration, claiming 100,000 participated.

Law and Justice, or PiS, has a significant lead in the polls, and the odds favor it winning an unprecedented third term. But with just 10 days left, the right-wing nationalist juggernaut is facing unexpected headwinds that could erode its support and threaten its ability to craft a majority in parliament.

In a jaw-dropping irony, the party, which like other nationalist populist parties in Europe often appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment, is now embroiled in a scandal over selling visas to migrants from Asia and Africa. If any government were found to have accepted bribes in exchange for visas, it would be disgraceful. But when that government has never hesitated to frighten voters about the purported dangers of non-white, non-Christian immigrants and promised to “protect” its citizens from them, it opens itself to accusations of rank hypocrisy.

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