The election is about more than a few controversial reforms and some divisive rhetoric. PiS is well on the way to establishing what Orban has termed an illiberal democracy. The mechanism is simple: all state institutions are made subservient to the party and all possible checks and balances, both legal and cultural, to party power are removed or emasculated.
Thus, the Constitutional Tribunal has been reduced to a facade through Duda's refusal to swear in legally chosen judges from the previous parliament's term and instead appoint party apparatchiks. The independence of the judiciary has been worn down by the creation of a new, party-dominated National Judicial Council, which has also enabled PiS to emasculate the Supreme Court to a large degree - and after the election, if Duda wins, it is likely that the increasingly powerful Minister of Justice, Zbygniew Ziobro, will introduce reforms to allow for the verification of all judges - meaning that any who are seen as difficult (non-compliant to the will of the party) will be removed.
All of these changes have been unconstitutional, but with Duda willing to sign anything (hence his nickname of 'Długopis' - ballpoint pen) and the Constitutional Tribunal reduced to an irrelevance, only the Court of Justice of the European Union appears able to bring any pressure to bear, especially if the EU links structural and other EU funds to maintenance of the rule of law.
Worse than these legal changes, however, are the cultural changes which are a key element of PiS's assault on liberalism. Like Trump, PiS has very consciously worked to undermine norms and standards of behaviour, and to render standard procedures optional. Laws are passed by parliament in the early hours of the morning, opposition amendments are voted down in blocks rather than being debated, debates are limited to absurdly short timeframes with microphones turned off during opposition members' speeches, constitutionally revolutionary laws are introduced as projekty poselskie (private members' bills) rather than government motions so that social consultation can be avoided and so on. The language of public discourse is hardened and divisions are deepened and entrenched, creating tensions even within families. Many in Poland can no longer talk about politics with some members of their families as a result of the polarisation of the country.
At its hears, the goal of the PiS project is to undermine the values - free and fair debate, equality before the law, a separation of state and party - which are fundamental to liberal democracy. And the longer PiS holds all levers of power, the more shameless it becomes. This has never been more clear than in the last year, and during this election campaign in particular. The entire government has used public money to travel around the country as part of Duda's campaign, handing out giant cardboard cheques to compliant (PiS) local government officials like manic game-show hosts. The PiS-dominated state TV channel has run endless attacks on Trzaskowski and his party, while lauding Duda and the PiS government with North Korea-esque propaganda.
If Duda wins, this process will continue. As during the PRL (communist Poland), the party and state will become inseparable. Elections will still take place, but it will become increasingly unlikely that they will be anything other than electoral theatre, rather than genuine acts of democracy.