Bury St Edmunds Polish residents on why homeland’s elections are the most important in generations
Polish citizens are flocking to the polling stations today in what many have hailed as the most consequential elections in generations.
The ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) is seeking a third term in office after being in power for eight years – unprecedented in Poland since 1989. Then, the country held its first partially-free elections since communist rule began.
SuffolkNews has spoken to Polish people living in the county who will cast their vote today.
Led by Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS hopes to continue with its promises, mainly its social and infrastructure programmes.
In the previous elections, those policies – such as the introduction of ‘500 plus’ (around £100) child benefit programme – have helped them win support among many who felt the transition years post communism were unfair.
They promised to increase the amount to 800zl (around £150) if they win the elections.
In opposition, Donald Tusk – Poland’s former Primer Minster between 2007-2014 and the president of the European Council, has returned to steer the country from populism rule.
His party that leads the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), hopes to restore Poland’s democratic values, women’s rights and freedoms – particularly following the near-total abortion ban under the current government – and its place inside the EU.
During his campaign, Tusk called these elections the last chance to save the country.
With the decrease in media freedom, attacks on democratic institutions, migrants, the LGBTQ+ community and women’s rights, many Poles going to the elections today are seeking change.
However, these elections have also been on the minds of those living away from their homeland.
With over half a million Poles registering to vote abroad, SuffolkNews has spoken to two Polish voters from Bury St Edmunds about why these elections are so important.
Agnieszka Drabik, 40, who has lived in Bury for nearly two decades, sees these election as the most important fight for the future of her country.
She hopes her vote can help to remove the current government from power, and bring back justice to those whose voice has been diminished over the years.
“The main party is called Law and Justice, but it’s showing lots of injustice at the moment,” said Agnieszka.
“I feel like the voice and freedom in Poland is becoming limited.
“All these years Poland has fought to be an independent, free country and now it’s under the high influence of one leader.
“I would like to see more justice coming into a range of areas such as human rights and women’s rights. I’m mainly talking about the abortion laws.
“I hope people will feel more safe. There's stress. When I talk with my family/friends from Poland, they say life in Poland is very stressful and difficult, so I hope people will find their lives less stressful.”
Agnieszka, who teaches Spanish and French at St Benedicts Catholic School in Beetons Way, Bury St Edmunds, believes the current government manipulates public opinion and creates a fake reality.
She added the current political situation is shocking.
“It feels like there is a danger in the Polish system - be that for the church, for the military, for public opinion, for media freedom, the judiciary or women’s rights,” she said.
“That’s why I’m doing something. I’m going to vote to hopefully change some reality.”
She added: “We often say ‘we have no control, we can’t do anything’, but this is our opportunity.
“Missing out on that, it’s wasting an opportunity. Even if we live abroad, we still have Polish passports, we are still Polish citizens.
“This is our duty.”
Anita Okoniewska, 56, who has also lived in the UK for nearly two decades, also believes the current government poses a danger to Poland’s future, especially with the ongoing war across the border in Ukraine.
She does not think PiS can keep its citizens safe from the Russian threat.
“It’s such a difficult time right now in Europe and in Poland”, said Anita
“There is a potential danger of a war in our country because of the war next door, in Ukraine
“They keep promising that we’re safe, but we’re not.
“I think they are trying to keep us quiet, so we need to give our voice and say stop.
She continued: “Don’t just listen to them. Try to make some changes. We can’t do too much, but if we can give our voice, then go to the elections. Why not?
“Even if I live abroad, it doesn’t matter. It’s still my country and I worry.
“I think if this party stays in power, it could be worse than better.”
Anita, who works as a housekeeper at the West Suffolk Hospital, will be travelling to Norwich with her husband and son to vote.
She added: “I think most people are not happy with our current government.
“This is the time to make some changes and maybe give a chance to other people to promote our country.”
Apart from voting on the next government, Poles have also been given four questions to vote on in a referendum.
The questions mainly refer to Poland’s migrant situation such as whether the border fence with Belarus should be dismantled, and if Poland should accept more migrants from the rest of the EU.
However, the opposition has been encouraging voters to boycott the referendum, saying the questions have been worded in a biased way.