Leaders of Poland’s smaller opposition parties outshone the heavyweights during a live debate on the government broadcaster TVP on October 9.
The debate showed that the opposition’s tactics of campaigning separately may prove decisive for the outcome of the election coming up this Sunday.
The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki focused nearly entirely on arch-rival Donald Tusk of the liberal Civic Coalition, giving space for the Left and the centrist Third Way to come out with constructive interjections and quick witty responses.
Tusk needs both the Left and the Third Way to outperform their poll averages on election day to be able to form a government coalition.
PiS’ possible coalition partner is the far-right Konfederacja, which also did well last night. Ultimately, it will be the far-right and the Third Way whose results in the election will be decisive in the process of making a new government.
A joint effort of the agrarian party PSL and the centrist Polska 2050, the Third Way has to win at least 8% of the vote to win any seats in the next parliament, an extra hurdle adding to the uncertainty of the election's outcome on October 15.
With Morawiecki giving most of his airtime during the debate to attack Tusk – who underwhelmed – the Left and the Third Way may have just secured an extra few percentage points to tip the scales in the opposition’s favour.
Tusk dodged the first question on migration, choosing to attack PiS’ leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski for skipping the debate and TVP for being a government propaganda channel.
“Where are you hiding?” Tusk called on Kaczynski as the debate began.
Morawiecki kept on attacking Tusk with each answer to the questions, phrased by TVP anchors in a way blatantly supportive of the ruling party.
Apart from migration, the questions covered the retirement age, privatisation of state assets, unemployment, social policy, and national security.
The EU, the climate crisis, the environment, and education were notably missing from the questions and virtually no participating leader took them up.
Morawiecki underlined PiS’ admittedly good run in terms of the economy and repeated claims that the Tusk administration had planned to cede half of Poland in case of a war with Russia (in fact, it was a worst-case scenario analysed by the Polish army).
“Do you want a coward for a PM?” Morawiecki said, referring to Tusk.
Tusk focused on giving TVP viewers – normally bombarded by unrelenting government propaganda – a view of PiS as a party of corruption. He also promised to hold PiS accountable for their decisions while in power and pledged a “national reconciliation” by Christmas.
Meanwhile, the Left’s Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus and the Third Way’s Szymon Holownia delivered concise answers, refraining most of the time from attacking the PM.
Holownia’s one-liner advising the ruling party to better “get packing” and Scheuring-Wielgus calling on women to vote for the Left may have resonated well with the audience.
Most Polish media will have run final polls before the campaign ends at midnight on Friday.
The election is however too tight to show a clear shift in voters’ preferences. Changes within polls’ margin of error will likely decide who wins power.
PiS has averaged 36% in the polls of late, ahead of Tusk’s Civic Coalition at 30%. The Third Way and the Left average at 10% each while the far-right Konfederacja has been at 9%.