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Poland’s lawmakers approve government plan for divisive referendum on election day

WARSAW, Poland (AP) —

Poland’s lawmakers on Thursday approved a government plan to hold a controversial referendum on migration alongside key parliamentary elections in October.

One of the questions on the referendum paper will ask voters whether they “support the admission of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa under the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy.”

Voters will also be asked whether they support the dismantling of a wall recently built along the border with Belarus with the aim of reducing unauthorized migrant arrivals.

In the election for both houses of parliament, scheduled for Oct. 15, the populist ruling Law and Justice party is seeking an unprecedented third term.

The Polish government has vehemently opposed a proposal agreed by EU member states to share out responsibility for migrants entering the bloc without authorization, either by taking a proportion of the new arrivals or by paying money into a support fund.

Critics say the referendum is a campaign ploy by Law and Justice to discredit the opposition. Participation in the referendum is not obligatory, but analysts say that campaign debates on the four questions are a way of rallying the public around the populist government’s policies.

The lower house of parliament, or Sejm, which is narrowly dominated by the ruling party, voted 233-211 with eight abstentions to approve the referendum plan, paving the way for its legal announcement, expected later Thursday.

The announcement of the referendum will require another vote.

Two other questions will be on the referendum paper, one on support for the privatization of some of the state-owned companies and the other on a rise in the retirement age.

The opposition is calling for a boycott.

The questions target the main opposition party, Civic Platform and its leader, Donald Tusk, seeking to paint them as a threat to the interests of Poles.

The pro-business and pro-EU Civic Platform, which governed from 2007 to 2015, raised the retirement age during its time in power, favored some privatization and signaled a willingness to accept a few thousand refugees before it lost power.

Law and Justice said at at the time that accepting refugees was against Poland’s interests.

Observers say that the fact the referendum would be held together with the elections could influence voters’ decisions.

As well as disagreements over migration, Law and Justice has long been in conflict with the EU over a perception by the bloc that the Warsaw government has been eroding democratic norms.

The Associated Press

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