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Poland approves migration referendum in upcoming election

August 18, 2023

The referendum comes at a time of border tensions with Belarus. The opposition says the ruling Law and Justice party is misusing public funds to demonize migrants.

Polish border fence with Belarus
Poland's border with Belarus and the EU's migration policy have become key issues ahead of elections in OctoberImage: Michal Dyjuk/AP Photo/picture alliance

Poland will hold a referendum on migration and three other issues on the same day as parliamentary elections later this year, after lawmakers passed a resolution in parliament on Thursday.

The ruling populist Law and Justice (PiS) party is keen to address four issues, namely the privatization of state companies, raising the retirement age, a fence on the border with Belarus, and accepting migrants under a European Union deal.

Opposition says PiS is trying to 'manipulate' election

Poland's opposition criticized the move, saying PiS is misusing public funds for a campaign exercise that is designed to energize its supporters and demonize opponents with a series of loaded questions.

The opposition said the conservative government's decision to hold a referendum on a number of hot-button issues was an attempt to "manipulate" the outcome of the upcoming legislative election.

But government spokesperson Piotr Muller said, "The questions asked there are crucial for the security of our compatriots and our country."

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The parliamentary vote on Thursday to hold the referendum on the upcoming general election on October 15 passed by 234 votes to 210, with seven abstentions.

What will be on the ballot paper?

The PiS want voters to answer questions on four key issues as the ruling party seeks to rally its core voters.

Poles will be asked their if they back selling off state firms, including to foreign entities; whether to raise the country's retirement age; and whether they want to maintain a border fence with Russia's close ally Belarus.

Citizens will also be asked if they want to accept asylum-seekers and migrants under an EU deal.

The text of the PiS drafted referendum refers to migrants as "thousands of illegal immigrants" from Africa and the Middle East under the EU agreement, which the referendum denounces as having been "imposed by European bureaucracy."

jsi/rs (AP, AFP)