Polish Ruling Party Support Plunges Amid EU Clash, Bonus Scandal

(Bloomberg) -- Poland’s ruling party suffered its biggest drop in popularity in two years as clashes over democratic standards and a Holocaust law, a government shakeup and a public bonus scandal were compounded by mass street protests.

The Law & Justice party saw its support drop more than a quarter to 28 percent, from 40 percent a month earlier, according to a survey by pollster Kantar Millward Brown for TVN24 published Wednesday. The score was well below those in other polls published this month showing Law & Justice with backing ranging from 37 percent to 47 percent. The biggest beneficiary of the drop was the opposition Civic Platform, which jumped eight percentage points to 22 percent.

Law & Justice has been dented by weeks of criticism of former Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, who paid bonuses to herself and other cabinet members of as much as 82,000 zloty ($24,170), or about one-and-a-half times the country’s average annual wage.

Authorities have also faced criticism over a law criminalizing suggestions that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, which outraged Israel and alarmed allies including the U.S. and France. The government, now led by Premier Mateusz Morawiecki, is facing an unprecedented rule-of-law probe from the European Commission that, in a worst-case -- and unlikely -- scenario, could strip it of its voting rights.

“This may be a beginning of a negative trend showing that the Law & Justice formula isn’t working,” said Andrzej Rychard, a sociology professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences. “Part of the electorate that supported the party in the 2015 elections is now seeing that it causes too much turmoil on almost all fronts.”

Some voters have taken to the streets over the government’s policies. Last week, tens of thousands of Poles protested against plans to tighten what are already some of Europe’s most restrictive rules on abortion. Those followed rallies last year in which demonstrators opposed legal changes aimed at giving politicians more control over courts, which deepened the standoff with the European Commission.

Law & Justice has experienced a precipitous drop in voter preference before. In 2015, after winning a surprising landslide election victory, it fell 15 percentage points to 27 percent, before recovering. The party took 37 percent of the vote in the ballot.

“I’d wait for other polls before drawing conclusions,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, head of the Warsaw-based Institute of Public Affairs. “Note that Law & Justice has suffered swings in support in the past and usually knew how to sort itself out.”

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