Poland’s PiS doubles down on social benefits to launch election campaign

Poland’s PiS doubles down on social benefits to launch election campaign
“Poland must follow the path of development in order to catch up with the countries of the European Union,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski told the PiS party’s congress. / bne IntelliNews
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw May 15, 2023

Starting next year, parents of children up to 18 years of age will receive monthly support of PLN800 (€177) per child, an increase from PLN500, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party told a congress in Warsaw on May 14. 

The two-day meeting over the weekend launched likely the fiercest-ever contest to win power in Poland. The election is due later this year and will pit PiS against an array of opposition parties from the centre-right to the left. The opposition says a victory for PiS will make Poland a semi-authoritarian state on the pattern of Hungary under Viktor Orban or Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The promise of a monthly unconditional payout of PLN500, known as the “500+ programme”, was the game changer in the run-up to the 2015 election, which PiS won by a landslide, as the party correctly recognised the political potential in voters who felt disenfranchised by years of liberal economic policies.

Eight years on, PiS is betting on generous social spending once again in a bid to win an unprecedented third straight term in office, with polls suggesting the party is facing a steep mountain to climb and is unlikely to form a government on its own.

The Polish economy is slowing down in the wake of cooling demand as the National Bank of Poland (NBP) hiked its reference interest rate 11 times from the pandemic-era low of 0.1% to a 20-year high of 6.75% to battle double-digit inflation.

That, along with reports of corruption and funnelling money to friendly media and foundations, has eroded PiS' standings in the polls. PiS still leads the polls but not with support big enough to secure a parliamentary majority.

But the ruling party is confident that revisiting the flagship child support programme alongside new promises of free medicines for seniors and children, as well as making highways toll-free will expand its voter base.

PiS also hopes that the easing inflation and the economic slowdown going past the lowest point sometime mid-way through 2023 will give it an opportunity to take credit for steering Poland clean through years of pandemic and the turmoil caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Poland must follow the path of development in order to catch up with the countries of the European Union,” Kaczynski told the party’s congress, naming Spain, Italy, France, and Finland.

Hiking child support from PLN500 to PLN800 – an increase of 60% - will cost the budget an estimated PLN26bn, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the private broadcaster Polsat on May 15. That is 0.8% of Poland’s GDP in 2022.

PiS’ new promises may have put the opposition in a bind. Competitors of the ruling party have long accepted the 500+ programme, pledging it would not be abandoned.  But the opposition is now facing a new populist initiative by PiS that will be difficult to dismiss without risking accusations of disregarding the needs of ordinary Poles.

PiS’ main rival, the biggest opposition party, the centre-right Civic Coalition, responded with a proposal to adopt the increased support as soon as June 1, the party’s leader Donald Tusk said.

“Chairman [Kaczynski], if you really want to help Polish families, not play an election game, then we can do it together in the parliament so that the increased benefit for the Polish children becomes a fact on Children's Day on June 1,” Tusk said at a meeting with voters in Krakow.

PiS dismissed the offer. “We have our programme written out, a sequence of very precise proposals. We are not going to dance to Tusk’s tune,” Morawiecki told Polsat.