WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s president announced Tuesday that the country would hold its parliamentary election on Oct. 15, marking the official start of an electoral campaign that informally has been underway for months and is being shaped by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
President Andrzej Duda said in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the elections for the 460-seat lower house of parliament, the Sejm, and for the 100-seat Senate will both take place on that Sunday in October.
Lawmakers will be elected for a four-year term, and the party with the most votes will be tapped to form the next government.
Polls show that Law and Justice, the conservative party which has governed Poland since 2015, is heading toward the election as the most popular party, but is likely to fall short of an outright majority in parliament.
It holds a small lead over a centrist bloc, the Civic Coalition, headed by Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister and former president of the European Council. Support for Tusk’s party has grown in past months but mostly at the expense of other opposition parties.
The election campaign begins as anxieties in Poland are rising over the presence of Russia-linked Wagner mercenaries across the NATO nation’s northeastern border in Belarus, where they have arrived by the thousands since a short-lived mutiny in Russia in June. Tensions have also been growing with ally Ukraine, on the country’s southeastern border, over grain imports and historical memories of past ethnic conflict.
The ruling party has been seeking to present itself as strong on national defense given the turmoil across its eastern borders. It has ordered more soldiers to beef up security at the Belarus border and is planning a large military parade on the Aug. 15 Armed Forces Day holiday next week to show off new military equipment as its modernizes its defenses.
Poland’s leaders have made multiple visits to Kyiv to support the Ukrainian war effort. But recently they have been taking a more confrontational stance with Ukraine as a far-right political group that has been critical of helping Ukrainians, Confederation, has been rising in the opinion polls.
Poland’s geographical position and support for Ukraine and acceptance of large numbers of Ukrainian refugees have attracted two visits to Poland since Russia’s February 2022 invasion from President Joe Biden.
The praise Warsaw has gained for helping Ukraine has allowed the government to avoid some of the scrutiny it has faced in past years over concerns in the West that its approach to the judiciary, media and LGBTQ+ people and other minorities amounts to democratic backsliding.
The party has gained popularity with many Poles for its conservative values and increase in state help for the elderly and families with children. Early in its first term it introduced a monthly cash payment of 500 zlotys ($123) per month for each child under 18.
President Duda, who is aligned with the party, on Monday signed legislation raising that monthly payment to 800 zlotys ($196) per month, starting next January.
Though popular with many, the policy also has its critics, among them economists who argue that that cash payments have helped to fuel a double-digit inflation rate, business people and young adults who resent funding the free money for others with their taxes.
Criticism of the policy is also a factor behind the growing popularity of Confederation, whose members include both far-right nationalists and pro-business libertarians. Some members of the group have pushed the slogan “Stop the Ukrainization of Poland.”
Last week, Poland and Ukraine called in each other’s ambassadors after an advisor to Duda said Ukraine needed to start showing appreciation to Poland for the help it was providing Kyiv in the war. Bad feelings have also been revived with a focus on massacres of Poles by Ukrainians that occurred 80 years ago, during, World War II.
Tensions with Ukraine have additionally been aggravated by a ban on Ukrainian food imports by Poland and other countries in the region — grain and other products which have caused a glut on local markets that has depressed prices for farmers. Polish farmers are a key constituent of the ruling party’s voter base, with other agrarian groups vying for their voters.
With the elections approaching, the ruling party on Tuesday fired the health minister, Adam Niedzielski, who faced criticism for revealing the personal details of a doctor and medicines he had prescribed after the doctor spoke publicly about problems in issuing electronic prescriptions.