The EP poll is being used by the main protagonists on Poland’s political stage as a rehearsal for the general election in the autumn. It could also determine the survival or otherwise of the main opposition force and indicate the winner in the decider.
Polling shows that Law and Justice (PiS) is maintaining its lead over the European Coalition (KE) and that Robert Biedroń’s “Spring” and the “Kukiz ‘15” movement are also likely to win representation in the European Parliament.
However, because of the electoral system used in the EP elections there is much competition within the ruling and opposition groupings. Voters will choose a single candidate from the list. Therefore the candidates are competing with each other even though they are standing for the same list. As the saying goes, we have enemies, deadly enemies and candidates competing on a list.
Can the European Coalition stay a balanced one?
The KE is made up of the largest opposition Civic Platform (PO), the Polish People’s Party (PSL), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and two smaller parties: Modern and the Greens. It is the PSL and the SLD who have for decades been standing on their own and who need to show their members and supporters that the coalition is worthwhile. The other two are smaller parties and would not gain representation on their own anyway.
The PSL is most at risk. Its voters tend to come from conservative rural areas. Some of those voters may well desert the party now that it is in the liberal dominated KE. If this happens then despite the fact that in three of the 13 constituencies a sitting PSL MEP heads the KE list the party could struggle to get representation. Especially as these are three constituencies in southern and eastern Poland where the KE is unlikely to be able to get more than one MEP elected in each.
The SLD seems to be in a better place. It has managed to get first place on the list for former Prime Ministers Marek Belka (Łódz) and Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz (Warsaw) and for a well established sitting MEP Bogusław Liberadzki in the North-West of the country. These are all areas in which the KE is likely to do well and get 2-3 MEPs elected in each.
The PO itself has a different problem. In the last set of EP elections it won 19 seats (SLD and PSL won 4 each). It would be an outstanding result for the KE for the PO now to better their seats score from 2014. There has already been some disgruntlement inside the party with having to make way for candidates from other parties. The former policy chief for Donald Tusk , Michał Boni, and the former European Commissioner Danuta Hubner have been moved down the lists and may struggle to make it back to the EP. Should the result be that it is the PO who end up as the main loser in terms of numbers of seats its leader Grzegorz Schetyna may find his position within the party has been weakened.
The PO would loathe to see PSL leave the KE. But this could happen. If the PSL finds itself with few or no MEPs at all it will be difficult to persuade the party to remain in the KE. This is because there were senior figures in the party such as the former agriculture minister Marek Sawicki and the former PM Waldemar Pawlak opposed to PSL entering the KE in the first place. Electoral failure in the EP elections would provide them with what could be a clinching argument for the party to stand under its own banner in the autumn’s parliamentary elections.
If PSL were to leave the KE the grouping would cease to be a broad church and would become even more heavily tilted towards the liberals then it is already. This is something the PO especially is very anxious to avoid.
Jockeying for position in the ruling party
The ruling PiS is in no danger of falling apart. But that does not mean that there isn’t internal rivalry inside the party and on its EP lists.
Two EP veterans have ended up at the top of the list in Warsaw; Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (former PO MEP and European integration minister) and at no.2 Ryszard Czarnecki (former vice president of the European Parliament). But both will feel the heat from former health minister Konstanty Radziwiłł who is a Senator in the Warsaw area and the party may struggle to win more than one seat in that constituency.
A big clash of personalities is also taking place in the south. There the former PM Beata Szydło heads the list, but fighting hard for additional seats are well-known MEP prof Ryszard Legutko, the deputy justice minister Patryk Jaki and controversial conservative MP Dominik Tarczyński.
But in some parts of the country PiS appears to have much weaker lists. In Lower Silesia pitting the less than popular education minister Anna Zalewska against the KE’s Janina Ochojska (an icon of Polish charity organisations) may not have been the best of choices. It is also hard in Upper Silesia for PiS’s Jadwiga Wiśniewska’s to compete with the head of the KE list (Jerzy Buzek, former PM and former President of the EP).
A very likely outcome of the EP elections is the long awaited government reshuffle. With interior minister Joachim Brudziński, and education minister Anna Zalewska likely to be going to Brussels this seems inevitable.
Winner takes all?
PiS will be delighted by any margin of victory in these elections. If they can win despite a turnout that is likely to be lower in rural rather than urban areas (KE likely to be strong in urban areas) and in spite of the spats its government has had with the EC, it will feel it is in a very good place for the main event in the autumn. Indeed, it would be very hard to see how the KE could win in the autumn if it cannot do so in the spring.