Polish general elections: boring campaign, predictable results
With six weeks left till the October 9 parliamentary election, one cannot help but wonder whether Poland has seen a less exciting campaign in the past two decades. Even though the usual bickering between the top political parties is taking place, there is so little fire and even less substance in their statements as if the result has been already decided.
And, in a way, the latter may well be true. According to all surveys, the ruling Civic Platform (PO) will most likely remain the key force in the parliament, with some 30-40% of seats. The populist Law & Justice (PiS) will retain its place as the main opposition party, with 20-30% of votes. The remaining two groupings that are likely to make the 5% support threshold and enter the parliament are the leftist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and PO's current junior coalition partner, the agrarian PSL.
In other words, should the opinion polls prove right, Poland's political landscape is unlikely to change much after the elections. But the devil, as usual, is in the detail. Around a quarter of all eligible voters still do not know who to vote for, and merely a third say they are definitely going to take part in elections. A large number of undecided voters and low turnout could lead to some surprises.
No talk about "real" issues
Although PO is unlikely to lose to PiS, its chances for maintaining the current 44% of seats in the parliament are rather slim. Capitalizing on some of the resentment associated with the economic slowdown, PiS is perhaps more likely to keep its current standing (32%), even though it has done very little to gain any new voters. The obvious coalition partner for PO (which almost certainly will not have the necessary majority to govern alone) will be its current ally PSL, provided the peasant party makes it to the parliament at all. Should PSL fail to get the required 5% support, PO will have no choice but to strike a deal with SLD, which has recently fallen victim to chaotic leadership and lack of clear direction.
But whatever happened to political programs and debates about issues? Again, those have been more about PR stunts than any true exchange of opinions. Prime Minister Donald Tusk publicly invited the opposition party's shadow cabinet ministers to a series of televised debates with PO's incumbent ministers. He also invited PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to take part in a verbal showdown with him, suggesting a date just prior to the October 9 election.
PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski rejected the idea, with his right hand men suggesting a conspiracy between PO and private TV stations to score points off the opposition party. PiS eventually did announce that it would be ready to hold a debate with PO ministers but on its own terms, in its own party center, a proposal PO found ridiculous. Brilliantly engineered by PM Tusk, the whole "debate on debates" left Mr. Kaczynski and his party colleagues looking like scaredy-cats, especially since it is common knowledge that the PiS leader failed to impress in the 2007 and 2010 election debates.
Another element the PM and his party wanted to highlight through the debate proposal is that PiS simply lacks the heavyweight shadow cabinet that it would need to get the better of PO's ministers. After losing many of its brightest members in the Smolensk plane crash last year, PiS is now painfully lacking in experienced politicians of substance who could actually handle the job of running the country.
A country divided
Many foreign observers remain puzzled as to the true difference between PO and PiS, since both parties share the same anti-communist Solidarity roots and similar, conservative, largely Catholic worldview. A clear distinction certainly cannot be found in their vague economic agendas, although PiS has been always displaying more etatist, if not mildly socialist tendencies and distrust towards foreign capital. In a very simplified way, one can say that PiS attracts those who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in Poland, be it due to their low income, or strongly traditionalist and religious beliefs. Hence the party's popularity with elderly citizens and in certain rural communities. PO supporters, on the other hand, represent Poland's aspiring middle class, although this group is much more diverse. In fact, a large number of PO supporters vote for the party simply to keep Kaczynski out, rather than in appreciation of Mr. Tusk and his government.
As usual, the choice in Poland will be less about who can do more good, but more about who can do less harm. And PO has proven over the past years that it was capable of steering the country through some rough waters (most importantly the global financial meltdown and the fallout of the Smolensk airplane crash, which killed more than 90 people including Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw's twin brother, and a number of key officials), even if it failed to achieve much else. With another crisis looming, will the voters be willing to try their luck with Kaczynski and his colleagues, who have focused most of their attention on unveiling the international conspiracy behind the Smolensk accident, or will they go for the safe, even if somewhat unexciting prospect of another four years under PM Tusk? We shall see in October.