Speaker of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński just resigned.
And you could have thought it is another hot and lazy day in Warsaw’s politics. You couldn’t be more wrong. Ever since the President announced the national elections are to take place on 13 October, the political scene needs to be contained.
As I wrote yesterday, the October elections are for Law and Justice (PiS) to lose. What started as a summer silly news, Mr Kuchciński used governmental planes for private purpose, led to his resignation from office.
I wrote contained on purpose. Speaker of the Sejm Marek Kuchciński is the second most important figure in the country. The media, starting from the privately owned Radio Zet, started to inform about the abuse of public office in late July.
It is important to remember that Radio Zet is a privately owned medium. Earlier this year the previous owner, a Czech billionaire, Daniel Křetínský, sold the radio station, one of the most profitable Polish media, and a PiS-backed investor was in the running. Today many PiS politicians talk of a need to “re-polonise the media” following the elections, and to “break out the monopolies”. So it happens that in a consortium that bought Radio Zet is Agora, a major Polish media holding, whose crown medium is the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza opposed to the government.
When PiS took over the state owned media in 2015 all the investigative journalism left the state television TVP and the Polish Radio. Even some individual reporters were fired for asking wrong questions to the ruling party politicians.
Without Radio Zet investigation the story might have broken anyway, but without Radio Zet being independent from Law and Justice it would not break the news mid-summer.
Law and Justice has a problem
The problem is not that Mr Kuchciński with his flights with family and party colleagues and their families completely disregard the rules. Jarosław Kaczyński at a press conference today says:
Mr Speaker did not break the law, he did not violate the existing practices, but since you the media and a large part of the society are of a different opinion we have no choice. The Speaker’s decision is linked with our motto “Listen to the Poles, serve Poland”. Since we promised to increase the standards of public service, we have to listen to the Poles.Jarosław Kaczyński, 8 August 2019, on Marek Kuchciński resignation
The real problem is different. Elections are in sight and “listening to the Poles” probably was confused with “listening to the polls”. Law and Justice enjoys a stable 40-45% public support. Result like this should deliver a continuation of governance for the next four years. Contain the problem.
Law and Justice has been successful in playing down all the scandals thus far, like the two towers scandal back in the spring. The Kuchciński Air, as the scandal has been labelled is different and dangerous. How PiS comes untouched so far? Judiciary issues are not understood by the PiS electorate. The climate issues are increasingly popular, but the party is able to adapt; there is an attempt by the Morawiecki government to actually comply with the national target for renewable energy production by 2020. The economy has been roaring, the salaries have been rising fast, and – there are the social payments for children, 13th pension for the retirees, first child payments, taxes reductions, etc.
There is a cynical, but widely accepted summary of how PiS is able to maintain high support: “Everybody steals. At least PiS shares with others”.
The Kuchciński Air scandal is dangerous for one reason: PiS is the party of the average Pole, the Pole of a small town, who works, who is a family man, who is not especially well educated, but who is moderately religious and definitely feels strong about Poland – that it needs to be respected, cannot be discriminated against, and its national sport teams should win: if you wear an eagle on your t-shirt you are proud.
That “average PiS voter” is represented by the average Poles who are PiS MPs, PiS ministers and PiS leaders. If you are coming out of the people, if you are the average Poland, and if the average Poland entrusts you, you need to be careful with the Kuchciński Air. No average Pole has a plane at their service. No average Poles has an aspiration to have a plane. This is beyond imagination of an average Pole. You may be out of touch with me, the average Pole might be telling the ruling party.
That’s the risk. That’s the problem that needs to be contained.
The new problem? The Kuchciński situation has been developing since 25 July. It was not contained then and today the Speaker resigns. But the hungry media prey on the weak and unlike hyenas will not likely be redirected to the flights of ex-PM Donald Tusk. During Mr Kaczyński press conference today the list of Tusk trips was distributed.
The media are targetting PiS not because they are anti-PiS. It’s because PiS is in power. Media hold the power accountable and the news that there are 29 other PiS politicians who used the planes for wrong purposes (effectively as taxis) is more likely to be exploited in the weeks to come.
“Air Kuchciński” can turn into “Air PiS” and continue to be the problem. Or maybe it will not be the case and PiS, once again, will prove to be successful in controlling the media agenda.
The fight is on. Deadline of this race is on 13 October.