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Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Column I’m running for the Polish elections… from Ireland

Dublin-dweller Sebastian Widel is hoping Ireland’s Polish community will elect him to parliament in Warsaw. Here he explains why all emigrants should be able to vote…

After moving from Poland to Dublin nine years ago, Sebastian Widel is hoping to win a seat in the Polish parliament as one of the first round of emigrant candidates to run for election from abroad.

He tells about his plans, and why he believes emigrants from all countries – including Ireland – should be able to vote back home.

I’VE BEEN IN Ireland since 2002, so a bit over nine years. My family is here; I met my fiancée in Ireland, though she is Lithuanian, and we live in Dublin. I’m running in the Polish elections this Sunday.

The results of the previous election showed that more people from abroad are voting in elections in Poland. So one party came up with this idea that they would allow Polish people abroad to run as candidates. In order, hopefully, that we don’t lose the Polish diaspora.

They contacted me, and I refused at first, but then I thought I might have some ideas on how to improve relationships between Poland and the Polish diaspora – people like me who went abroad, started from scratch, gained some experience and progressed. It’s about engaging Polish people abroad, making them interested in what’s happening in Poland. Because even if they stay in their new countries, in years to come they may be well placed in Ireland or the UK, in private business or big companies. They could help with Poland’s economy and trade.

Ireland is a great example of this, of the potential that people living in other countries have. The Irish who emigrated to the States came back with money, and brought companies to set up here in Ireland.

Voting from abroad very simple. You register online up to three days before the elections. So you go to the website, put in your passport number, your place of residence and some personal details – it takes five minutes. Then you pick your ballot point – so one would be the Polish embassy in Dublin, another would be in Galway, Cork, and I think Limerick. Three days later you go with your passport and vote.

Altogether there are 15 or 16 candidates outside Poland, but there are no others running in Ireland. My friends are helping with the campaign. I’m still in full-time employment so it’s basically weekends. I’ve given a couple of interviews to the Polish press in Ireland, I have a meeting in the Polish House, a meeting with Polish people in Cork; I have some leaflets which I’m leaving at Polish shops and churches, and I’m trying to talk to people. I also have a website, which shows my programmes for Polish migrants and infrastructure. These are the things I’d improve if I got a chance.

‘Emigrants influence the Polish economy’

Some people say that once you move away, you shouldn’t be interested in your home country. But this emigration from Poland is very new; it’s only the last six or seven years. Many people still have their families, their friends in Poland; I would hope that they would still wish Poland very well. And they know the problems that Poland has – because from a distance of 2000km, with the perspective of another country, you can see better what could be improved. So they should have someone, a candidate who can make that kind of difference.

I don’t agree with the idea that people who aren’t paying tax in Poland shouldn’t be able to vote in Poland. Emigrants travel home to Poland, they spend their money in Poland. If they decide to move back, they might bring savings with them, and then they will be investing in Poland. Ryanair flies to almost every city in Poland, it boosts the local economies, airports are growing. Plus our Irish friends are travelling to Krakow and Warsaw, and I would say that this is also because they know Polish people and they can ask us for a recommendation. Research also shows that we are sending money to support families at home. So we do have a big influence on the Polish economy. So it’s not like we have no right to vote.

I would say that Irish emigrants who hold Irish passports should also be eligible to vote at home. This would change politics, and I think it could make politics better. Because people in other countries can see the faults of their own homeland better; they can see ways of improving things.

If I was elected, I would hope to be in Ireland as often as possible. I’d like to have a clinic meeting in Ireland every two weeks, like Irish TDs have, an Irish phone number. One of the differences between the countries is that Polish politicians are not as approachable as Irish ones would be, so I’d like to try and change that.

Polish people abroad can vote, and they should. It doesn’t matter who they vote for .But as long as they do, they won’t be forgotten for the next four years.

Today is the deadline for Polish emigrants to register in Sunday’s elections. For more information about Sebastian Widel, check out his website (translated version here). As told to Michael Freeman.

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