Polish opposition struggling to take advantage of scandal

By bne IntelliNews July 14, 2014

Jan Cienski in Warsaw -


Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has had a terrible few weeks since the transcripts of several controversial conversations featuring senior ministers were splashed across the national press, but he's very lucky to have such inept opponents.

The opposition Law and Justice party (PiS) tried and failed resoundingly to oust the government on July 11, losing the vote by 236 to 155 in the 430-member legislature. Later in the day, the opposition also failed to unseat Justice Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, whose security apparatus should have been able to prevent eavesdropping on his obscenity-laced chat with the head of the central bank.

To add insult to injury, a new opinion poll by CBOS issued the same day suggested Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) has been only marginally weakened by the weeks of scandal, falling just 3 percentage points to 29% support compared to June. Law and Justice, by contrast, did not budge, with the support of 24% of the electorate.

Wojciech Szacki, writing for Polityka Insight, an analysis firm, claims it's apparent that PiS has hit a "glass ceiling" in terms of support. "Even at a moment of crisis for PO, PiS would have no chance of winning a majority in parliament," he suggests.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski is hoping to capitalise on Tusk's problems to finally break through to a wider group of supporters. However, his party's brief term in office from 2005-2007 still sends shudders through many centrist Poles, who were put off by PiS's right-wing nationalism and its hunt for often imagined criminal conspiracies that ended up bending or breaking laws. That has made it difficult for him to move beyond his core electorate, concentrated in the rural east of the country.

The party's absorption of two smaller coalition partners also lingers in the memories of other political parties, which are loath to cooperate too closely with Kaczynski. That reluctance was seen again this week, when the PiS leader's attempts to unite small right-wing splinter parties into a single anti-Tusk bloc collapsed.

All of which is good news for Tusk, as he leads his party into local elections later this year, and presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015. Voters may not be overly thrilled with his team as it comes towards the end of Poland's first consecutive term in office of any government since the fall of communism, but they seem to be even less taken with the opposition.

"Poles have their electoral preferences and even several weeks of scandal with recordings of senior PO politicians has not caused a sharp fall in support for that party," writes Szacki.


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