Parliamentary elections in 2023 led to major political changes in Poland. With the elections, the Law and Justice party combined a referendum – but the questions were biased and the party wanted to improve its electoral result in this way. It was parliamentary elections that were to decide Poland’s future – not a referendum.
The Economic Freedom Foundation conducted an effective information campaign in September and October 2023 to discourage participation in the pseudo-referendum. Our activities contributed to the fact that nearly 10 million voters refused to pick up a referendum card.
EFF’s Successful Campaign
The Economic Freedom Foundation was one of the entities authorized by the National Electoral Commission to conduct the referendum campaign, including a free public media campaign. In parallel with the campaign in the media, the website oreferendum.pl has been launched, from which voters could learn about the true intentions of this “plebiscite”. There were also spots aired on Polish Public Television and Polish Public Radio (and its regional branches), as well as in private media (Polsat Group and EuroZet Group).
According to the law on the nationwide referendum, public broadcasters could not prohibit the airing of the eligible entity’s spot, which provided an opportunity to reach these stations’ viewers with facts and messages that they are unable to see and hear daily.
Even before October 15, the majority of voters believed that elections, not referendum, were more important for Poland’s socio-economic future, according to research by Opinia24, commissioned by the Economic Freedom Foundation. As a result, EFF encouraged people to go to the Sejm and Senate elections, but not to get caught up in the political game of the referendum, and therefore not to pick up a referendum card from the commission.
We can hear in the anti-referendum video prepared by the Economic Freedom Foundation that:
“We live in a free country. We have the right to decide what is important to us and whether we will get caught up in the political game. To make a real difference, cast an important vote in the elections – and do not take your referendum card from the commission.”
Marek Tatala, vice president of the Foundation, reiterated during the campaign:
“The best way to ensure that our vote does not increase the turnout in the referendum is to refuse to take the referendum card from the commission. It is the responsibility of the election commission to ensure that the referendum card you do not take is not used. The commission should note in the register that you did not take the card – make sure it does so.”
In the end, the turnout for the nationwide referendum was well below the ruling party’s expectations – less than 41 percent, according to the National Electoral Commission. The parliamentary elections, on the other hand, enjoyed a record turnout of 74.38 percent. This means that as many as 9,884,303 voters deliberately did not pick up a referendum card.
Election Campaign with Taxpayers’ Money
The referendum included four questions that were phrased in a way that suggested an answer.
- “Do you support selling off state assets to foreign entities, leading to the loss of Poles’ control over strategic sectors of the economy?”
- “Do you support raising the retirement age, including the restoration of the increased retirement age for men and women to 67?”
- “Do you support the removal of the barrier on the border of the Republic of Poland with the Republic of Belarus?”.
- “Do you support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, in accordance with the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?”.
Marek Tatala said:
“Nearly 60% of voters agree that the answers to the referendum questions are obvious and there is no point in asking about the issues they raise in a referendum.”
According to the EFF vice president, the referendum was a distraction and a tool for additional financing of the campaign of the ruling party beyond the limits of the electoral law.
With the help of those in power came the extremely politicized state-controlled companies whose foundations were involved in the referendum campaign. These included the foundations of Bank Pekao S.A., the Polish Energy Group, the PKP Group, Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa, the Polish Armaments Group and Totalizator Sportowy. These companies are controlled by the Law and Justice Party and their actions were a way to circumvent rules on election campaign financing, as well as a violation of the principle of political neutrality of state-owned companies.
For example, the PGE Foundation published a spot in the government media encouraging people to cast a certain vote in the referendum. In the spot, Poland before the Law and Justice governance was described as a “market for foreign capital”. The spot clearly suggested a “no” vote, coinciding fully with the ruling party’s line. As another example, the Polish Armaments Group Foundation invoked the security of the homeland in its materials, referring to the question about the alleged removal of a barrier on the Polish-Belarusian border, which no one proposed.
The referendum on the same day as the parliamentary elections was a political game. Fortunately, contrary to the aspirations of those in power and the use of the institutions of the state, we continue to live in a free country, and as Poles, we did not get caught up in this game.