Fact checking the wishful thinking of NYT

Warsaw city centre. Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The NYT has published an article written by Sławomir Sierakowski, a liberal political activist which argues that Law and Justice (PiS) Poland’s ruling party lost the local government elections. Fact checking the article shows that he and NYT are indulging in wishful thinking.

The article begins with mixing fact with fiction.

“After years in power, the Law and Justice party lost big in recent mayoral elections.”

PiS have been in power for 3 years, but it could not have lost big in mayoral elections for one simple reason. It had very few mayors in the cities to lose. Its support in the cities did show signs of decline, but its support in rural and small town areas made up for the loss.

Next we have Mr Sierakowski attributing all votes which were not cast for PiS in the city mayoral elections to the liberal opposition.

“ Last weekend a coalition of opposition parties in Poland solidified the results of a stunning mayoral election season: In several major cities, including Warsaw, the opposition defeated the ruling Law and Justice party, a populist, anti-immigrant party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski.”

In fact, in many cities the elections were won by independent mayors who wanted to play no part in the struggle between government and opposition. That was the case in several large cities and many smaller ones. Elections for mayors are personal elections that defy logic of party struggle. People tend to vote for incumbent mayors as long as those mayors have managed local services well.

The inconvenient truth

Mr Sierakowski now turns to the inconvenient truth of the provincial elections and tries to spin it his way.

“Although Mr. Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party obtained the highest level of support — 34 percent — in the elections to Poland’s 16 provincial assemblies, the second-place Citizens’ Coalition was only seven points behind, at 28 percent. The third- and fourth-strongest showings were also by opposition parties — the Polish People’s Party, with 13 percent, and the Democratic Left Alliance, with 6.6 percent.”

First of all, the Civic Coalition got 27 percent and not 28. Second, the Polish People’s Party (PSL) got 12 percent and not 13. He also fails to add that the PSL has consistently polled more in local than in national elections, and that many of its voters tend to vote conservative in general elections.

Crystal ball gazing

This is why it is dodgy political science to say that PiS “ can count on only roughly a third of the vote in Poland.”

It is even more absurd to claim that “ if next year’s parliamentary election were held today, the party would be pushed out of power.” Since the PSL vote is most unlikely to hold and it is impossible to tell what party those who voted for independents (some 9 percent of the vote in the provincial elections) would plumb for, this is hyperbole big time.

Wishful thinking writ large

We now move to total denial of reality.

“It is difficult to overstate the ramifications of these recent elections, and Law and Justice’s failure to win them….The opposition has had its first success in three years, demonstrating that it knows how to win, and now has wind in its sails.”

But the problem is that it was the government that won the local government elections. Their result was the best result for a single party in local government elections obtained by either a ruling or an opposition party. They won outright control of six provinces and came within 1 seat of winning outright in two more. They also came top of the poll in another province in which they look set to form a coalition with right-leaning independents. Add to that the fact that they also increased the number of counties (second tier of local government) they control by over 50 percent, and the government looks to be in a good position to win next year.

The economy is strong and social spending popular. Just as people voted for incumbents in the mayoral elections, they may choose to vote for incumbents who have delivered tangible results at the national level.

Sławomir Sierakowski dreams of a united opposition standing in the elections together. This is rather unlikely, as the three opposition forces differ strongly on economic and cultural issues. It is also wildly optimistic to argue that:

“The opposition, largely composed of liberal and center-left groups, has already succeeded in neutralizing the two issues that had given Law and Justice so much power over the past decade: boosting expensive social programs and stoking the fear of refugees. After the mayoral elections, it seems voters no longer find these issues compelling. Socialism and nationalism can lose to liberalism.”

This is absurd. The mayoral elections had nothing to do with the immigrations issue or with attitudes towards social spending - social spending that is modest by EU standards and which has been funded while lowering the budget deficit, boosting tax yields and growing the economy.

And Mr Sierakowski is writing about only 107 out of Poland’s cc2500 municipalities. Life does not begin and end in the cities. In Britain and the USA, conservative parties have won majorities while failing to win in the cities. Would any Labour politician in Britain feel it was a great victory to win in Manchester? Would any Democrat in the US argue that it was a great victory to hold Washington DC? It is perfectly possible for the liberal cities v conservative interior scenario to be repeating itself in Poland, as the figures from the provincial elections clearly show.

Hidden agenda

To finish off, the Polish liberal activist betrays the real agenda behind the article. To encourage the EC and the ECJ to hold firm on Poland and to support the opposition in Poland.

“The European Union has been watching the Polish elections carefully, and it is likely to throw even more support behind the pro-Europe opposition. With its large population and geographically central location, Poland is a kind of swing state that can turn the tide across Eastern Europe. If populism is defeated in Poland, maybe it can be defeated elsewhere.”

Mr Sierakowski is very revealing here. First of all, he shows that he believes “the European Union” to be the EC and the pre-2004 member states. Second, by talking about Poland as a ‘swing state’, he betrays the mindset of the EU already being a federal state (more wishful thinking there). Finally, he makes an admission that the European establishment has been supporting the opposition against the government of the day that represents the country within the European Council. Maybe it is not the current Polish government but its opponents in Poland and in Brussels who are working for Polexit? We should be told.

For the full article, click here.