PSL to go it alone

The Polish People’s Party (PSL) decides that it will build its own electoral alliance with centrists and centre-right forces. The European Coalition is therefore no more.

The Executive Council of the Polish People’s Party (PSL) met on Saturday and decided not to renew its electoral coalition with the Civic Platform (PO), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and other smaller centre-left parties. As a result the opposition European Coalition (KE) parties that stood in the European elections and polled 38 percent have lost an important ally, especially in rural areas where the PSL has some strength.

The leader of the PSL, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz announced on Saturday that his party will build its own electoral block which is to be called the “Polish Coalition”. He invited all those who share the PSL’s values and beliefs to work with the new entity.

Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz also listed policies the PSL was to propose at the general election in the autumn. They include freeing pensions of income tax, PLN 1200 (EUR 280) per hectare of farming land in direct payments, a lower rate of 10 percent Income tax for the self-employed, the widening of the 500+ child benefit to cover years in higher and further education and introducing voting via the internet.

The PSL leader argued that his party would appeal to a rural, centrist and Christian electorate which he felt had not been properly represented by the European Coalition during the EP elections. But he left the door open to cooperation with the rest of the opposition over elections to the Senate.

Analysis: a gamble

European Coalition already falling apart

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Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz has decided to unify his party. Instead of agonizing about whether to maintain the KE coalition he has opted for moving on.

He has over the past few days defended the decision to join the KE and argued that getting three MEPs elected was not a bad result for his party. However, he had also said that the KE was a one-off for the European elections and that during the campaign his party had felt uncomfortable with some left of centre positions taken on issues such as church-state relations or LGBT rights.

It is however not entirely clear who he is really targeting as potential partners in the new electoral alliance he is building. No one in the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) camp is likely to joining. He has no taste for the ultra-right grouped in the Confederation. So he will be left with overtures to the rock star Paweł Kukiz and local government oriented independents.

It is also unlikely that the PO will abandon its allies such as the SLD or the much smaller liberal Modern party. Instead, arguably the PO could now try more easily to approach Robert Biedroń and his Spring party, now that the centrist but conservative on cultural matters PSL is going its own way.

But the PO will not welcome this at all. First of all, it breaks up a coalition that the PO itself initiated. Second, it reduces the opposition’s ability to reach out to rural and centre-right voters to whom PSL can have some appeal.

There will be those who will argue that by going it alone the PSL is making a big mistake. The party back in 2015 only polled just over the five percent required to obtain parliamentary representation. It suffered heavy losses in the local government elections last year. In rural areas it has been losing ground to the ruling PiS for the past decade or more.

It is certainly a bold gamble by PSL and its leader. He is gambling on there being space in the centre of Polish politics at a time of intense polarisation between the liberals and conservatives. But Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz has won plaudits for his approach to politics, where he has distanced himself from strident opposition voices. His party now has to hope that his good reputation and personality will help it to survive.

The ruling PiS will have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand they will feel that the PSL on its own may be more of a threat in rural areas then when it is within a broader coalition with liberals. But on the other, it may welcome a party that will also take votes away from the PO and which could in future be a coalition partner. That is hard to envisage for the time being as PiS and PSL have not seen eye to eye for over a decade, whereas the PO and PSL have worked together in coalitions in government, local government and the European Parliament.

The fact that the KE has fallen apart does generate a new potential opportunity for Donald Tusk. Who else could persuade the PO and the PSL to work together in a broader front then the former PO-PSL coalition government PM?