“Hide Your Grandma’s ID”: Election campaign heats up

It encouraged Poles to hide their Grandma’s ID so she couldn’t vote in the parliamentary election October 21. The 27-year-old computer scientist behind the message said it was a joke.  But the conservative Law and Justice Party, which holds the reins of government until the election, was not amused. By the time its members had raised a nasty fuss about it, the intimidated creator of the message felt compelled to offer a public explanation of what he had meant by it. 

Elderly voters were a key reason the Law and Justice Party won the majority of seats in the last election two years ago. They contended the SMS was an attempt to interfere in this election. They threatened to prosecute those behind the message – chest-thumping that their opponents say shows exactly why Poland needs new political leadership.      

The SMS read: “Elections are coming up. The country needs to be saved. Hide your grandma’s ID. Pass on this message.” Two years ago the Law and Justice Party won the most seats in parliament – and thus the president’s and prime minister’s posts – because of support from the elderly and from conservative Catholics.The priest Tadeusz Rydzyk was another factor in the Law and Justice victory. He threw the weight of his media holdings, including his Radio Maryja station, his national television network and his daily newspaper, behind the party. Many Poles maintain that the country’s top political leaders, President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, are reactionaries instead of the kind of forward-looking politicians the country needs. They don’t want the Law and Justice Party to get the majority of seats again because it would mean the Kaczynski twins would continue to lead the country.  

The elderly voters who helped elect the Law and Justice Party also are not interested in the challenges of the modern world and wanting to move forward, supporters of other parties contend. But these “mohairs” – the name comes from the mohair berets many wear — are a disciplined electoral bloc, always voting.  Not all elderly voters fall into the Law and Justice camp, of course. So the SMS was based on a stereotype. But no one would dispute that elderly votes were key to the Law and Justice Party victory of 2005. 

The “Hide your Grandma’s ID” message first appeared on a Web site, www.trwam.net. The site advised Poles not to treat the slogan seriously. But the Law and Justice Party did take it seriously. 

At first it just criticized the message. Party member Ludwik Dorn called it “rude and inappropriate,” for example. He also said it reflected “youthful stupidity.” Then the party took the next step: threatening to prosecute those behind the message. Milosz Wilkanowicz, appointed a member of the National Election Commission, said he considered the message not only irresponsible but containing criminal intent. Since a person cannot cast a ballot if he cannot provide poll workers with an ID, a message encouraging Poles to hide others’ identity papers shows deliberate intent to interfere in the election process, Wilkanowicz said. He said those behind the message could face imprisonment if convicted of intent to interfere in the voting. Finally, the prime minister himself chimed in.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski called the message a mockery of the election process. He also labeled it an offense against the nation and the values Poles hold dear. The intimidation finally prompted the man behind the SMS to offer a public explanation. He said those who took the message seriously had misunderstood it. He never wanted to keep any eligible voter from the polls, he said. In fact, he said, he planned to go to the polls with his own grandparents. And he declared his respect for Radio Maryja and Father Rydzyk. Those who dislike the Law and Justice Party say the abuse that it heaped on the creator of the SMS is proof that the party is reactionary and threatens Polish democracy. They said they hope the episode has opened the eyes of a lot of voters about the negative force the party really is. And they hope those voters respond by casting ballots against the party next week.

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