Ever since the local and regional elections in October and November 2018, the opinion polls have been stable. PiS support is between 30 and 40%, depending on methodology, and PiS is always first. Behind – the opposition. The largest party is the Civic Platform (PO) under the leadership of Grzegorz Schetyna. Latest opinion polls put PO at 22%.
The rest of the crowd is largely unpredictable, as the political situation since the local and regional vote has been about:
- Reflection of individual and joint cumulative powers of the opposition;
- Turf infighting between the PO and its Civic Coalition main partner, the .Modern party (.Nowoczesna) when 7 MPs moved from .N to PO
- Awaiting arrival of a new political actor under the unknown name, which is scheduled for 3 February – its leader is Robert Biedroń.
Who’s strong, who’s not
The last vote and the opinion polls since then are ruthless: PO is the biggest, but not the only force out there. If PO runs alone in May they could lose the elections.
.N, a party once bigger – in the opinion polls – than the PO, today is down to non-existence. There are still liberal MPs in the Sejm, but there is no future for the party if it goes alone. It constitutes, however, an important “added value” to the Civic Platform, as together the two can profit from a unity. PO’s 22% and .N’s 2% do not exactly add up to the 26% a joint coalition of those two parties usually has in the polls.
Then there are two parties, the agrarian PSL and SLD. Once they were almighty, they ruled the country. PSL had a prime minister, SLD had prime ministers and a president. PSL made it to the Sejm in 2015, but every time it struggles with the threshold. Their strongest performance is usually the local and regional vote. In the fall 2018 PiS run a major campaign directed at eradicating PSL from the countryside. PiS failed, but PSL came out weakened. In 2014 PSL had almost 24% of all members of the sejmiks’ (regional council) members. In 2018 this was halved to 12%. Still, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz was relieved on the evening of the elections.
PO, PSL and others lost elections, but not as much as they thought. PiS won elections, but not as much as it anticipated to win. It seems PiS and the opposition had similar expectations.
Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz holds the keys for the fate of the future coalition in the European elections. PSL should take its decision in the upcoming days or weeks. WKK in December: “We are ready to go alone”, but he left the door open to talk with other partners, too. WKK remains personally popular. In a recent poll he is the most popular leader among the opposition leaders; 26% of the public favoured him as future prime minister – only 10% chose PO’s Schetyna.
With PSL, the PO-N can “take on” the PiS leadership in the opinion polls. Should the fourth wheel join the pack, SLD, what PiS politicians like to call the Polish opposition forces, the Total Opposition, could materialise in a form of a winning force.
The SLD is a post-communist left, who is fighting for survival. The party failed to enter the Sejm in 2015, brought MEPs into the EP in 2014, and now faces a mortal kiss from the new Biedroń party. They may be forced into coalition with the PO and others, in order to maintain their falling public support.
Do they differ?
What unites them is their rather unified perspective that the PiS government has been destructive for the country. What divides them is everything else. PO is a centre-right party with free market perspective and is respectful of the relationship the state has with the Catholic Church. PO is most popular among the wealthier, urban and educated population. N. is a liberal party, sharing many of the features of the PO electorate, but adding more importance for the equality issues – women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc.
The PSL is a party of the farmers. The SLD today has been shrunken to represent certain parts of the society closer to the military and the former members of the Communist Party (PZPR).
The buzz of the unknown
Robert Biedroń, a former MP (2011-2014) for the liberal party back then called “The Palikot Movement”, who has entered the Sejm’s tribune with smirks on the faces of many other MPs. What was hidden back then was the homophobia of the Polish political class of the time. People did not talk about the gay stuff back then. Today the gin is out of the box.
When Biedroń, a former activist for gay rights, run for mayorship of Słupsk, the experts and political parties did not give him many chances. When he won in 2014, he gained respect among the Polish left-wingers. His popularity has been driven by a status of a celebrity, which only a few Polish politicians enjoy. Two years ago opinion pollsters started polling people about who could or should be Poland’s next head of state in 2020. Biedroń got 26-33% of the instinctive reactions. Today he says he wants to be Poland’s prime minister.
Biedroń will not go with the opposition, he needs first to see how strong he is. The European elections will be indicative. He quotes Macron, and is equally critical of PiS, PO and the Catholic Church. When Macron was looking for new partners around Europe, Biedroń’s name came up. But trans-European coalitions have not been formed. Before his party joins ALDE, the Greens or any other group, first they need to prove worthy of the public vote.
The new party problems? Structure, money and the predecessors. The structure, the money and the buzz seem to be there. The experience of recent parties created on the basis of a popularity of its leader – Palikot, Kukiz and Petru (Modern) – prove to be short-lived.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council. His mandate ends in December. His popularity among the opposition is massive, but he cannot run, or lead the opposition due to his European functions. However, he alludes. In December gossip came through Warsaw that there is a secret deal between Tusk and Schetyna. Apparently among the considered option is an option for the President of the European Council to finish his term three months earlier, in time for the Sejm elections.
Paweł Lisicki, a right-wing journalist mocks Tusk’s popularity: “The anti-PiS awaits Tusk like the Jews await a Messiah”. There is some truth to it.