VISEGRAD: Poland's Civic Platform faces new reality

By bne IntelliNews June 5, 2015

Wojciech Kość in Warsaw -


Poland’s ruling Civic Platform (PO) is desperately casting around for ways to win back voters after losing the presidential election to its biggest rival, Law and Justice (PiS). Meanwhile some new political groups continue to eat into the party’s standing in opinion polls, just five months before the parliamentary election.

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and other top PO politicians are reported to be holding frequent meetings to discuss what the party should do to stop PiS’ free wheeling populism, and how to fight back against the new political groups exploiting its current weakness. The party says it will present the new strategy on June 20.

In a Millward Brown opinion poll from June 1, PiS tops the list with 25%. That would not be a worry for PO under normal circumstances, but it fell to third place at 17%, a far cry from the standing of 30%-35% it has enjoyed for several months.

Maverick Pawel Kukiz – who has not even set up an official party– scooped 20% to claim second position, and a week-old group, Nowoczesna PL – not officially a party either - came in fourth with 10%.

The problem PO has now is that the new political groups largely feed off its electorate, while leaving PiS’s score the same as it has always been. This could mean that PiS is strong enough to win the election, helped by having Andrzej Duda as president.

Kukiz seems more likely to work with the PiS - Krystyna Pawłowicz, a leading MP for PiS, recently called on Kukiz to get on with forming a party because "we need you in the parliament”.

But Nowoczesna PL seems more like a fresher version of PO and its aggressive economic liberalism should make the party a likely ally of the PO if it makes it into the parliament in autumn.

PO politicians have largely disregarded the collapse of the party’s popularity in one isolated poll. Still, the sudden rise of Nowoczesna PL should be a concern for PO. The party is led by economist Ryszard Petru, one of a group of Polish liberal economists who have typically backed PO against the populist PiS as well as the left.

Fundamental change

During the party’s inaugural congress in Warsaw last weekend, Petru and invited businessmen such as the founder of private postal company InPost Rafal Brzoska spoke at length on how PO has failed to improve business environment and become complacent and focused on maintaining the status quo.

They repeated Polish business circles’ mantra that the economy should be liberalised further – including further deregulation of the labour code and cuts in red tape. Nowoczesna PL also wants to introduce internet voting, to reform education so that it suits business better, as well as to put an end to financing political parties from the state budget. None of these proposals is anything that PO did not talk about at least once during its eight-year rule.

“Petru is counting [to win votes] of younger beneficiaries of the Polish transformation who have become disappointed with PO,” Wawrzyniec Smoczynski, head of Polityka Insight think tank told TOK FM radio on June 1.

As well as mulling campaign strategy, PO is pushing through several reforms in an attempt to neutralise PiS and the newcomers. It is trying to do so before Duda takes office on August 6, after which he could hamper PO’s efforts by using his veto.

PO wants to pass laws to facilitate in vitro fertilisation, give fee-free legal help, make changes in the tax law that would mean doubts in interpretation of tax regulation were always resolved to the taxpayer’s favour, as well as launch a programme to help young Poles get their first job.

The PO is also likely to move further in a populist direction to counter the PiS. For example, the party has suggested raising the minimum wage or ending the wage freeze in the public sector.

However, Kukiz’s consistently high position in the polls could mean a fundamental change has already taken place in Poland, sociologist Henryk Domanski told the Polish edition of Newsweek on June 2, making it difficult for PO to claw back ground.

“Whatever PO will do before the election, it will not be enough. Komorowski [the incumbent president who lost to Duda] tabled a number of changes after he lost the first round and that only deteriorated his position because his move was received as panicky. The same can happen to Platforma,” Domanski said.

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