Call for opposition to hold Presidential Primary

Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, leader of the Polish People’s Party (PSL) calls for the opposition to hold primary election to determine who should stand against President Duda.

The leader of the Polish People’s Party (PSL) Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz has called on the three main opposition parties: his own, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Civic Platform (PO), to agree to a joint process of identifying a joint Presidential candidate through a primary election “preferably held by the end of the year”.

The Presidential election in Poland will take place in the spring of next year. The ruling party’s candidate will most likely be the sitting President Andrzej Duda.

The idea of Presidential primaries to establish a joint opposition candidate for the President has also been floated by Donald Tusk. Mr Tusk is considered to be open to Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz becoming that joint candidate, should the whole opposition agree to this.

Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz has emerged from the Parliamentary election held this month with a much stronger position. His party doubled its parliamentary representation and doubled its vote. His party holds three seats in the Senate, and without its support there would be no opposition majority in the second chamber.

PSL won’t be pushed around

In an interview with the weekly “Wprost” published on Monday the PSL leader makes no apology for the fact that the PSL decided to stand its own slate for the elections, thereby abandoning the “European Coalition” with the PO and the SLD from the May EP elections. He warned his partners over the decision on who should be the Speaker of the Senate “if anyone thinks that they will take a unilateral decision they better think again”.

This was addressed at Grzegorz Schetyna, the PO leader, who is reported to want to instal a PO senior Senator and former Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz in the prestigious role of Senate Speaker. But the PSL leader cut short speculation of any arrangement with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS). “There will be no coalition with PiS” he declared.

New direction for the PSL

In his interview the PSL leader confirmed that his party has changed its electoral base. “We have stopped being a union of farmers and have become a one nation party,” he said.

The alliance with the rock musician Paweł Kukiz’s movement and urban ex-PO politicians such as the former Justice Minister Marek Biernacki has helped the party connect with voters in the cities. The crowning evidence of that is the fact that for the first time since the immediate post-war period the party has managed to win a seat in Warsaw.

The party also adopted more business friendly policies than in past elections. And it adopted the pro-civic society policies including binding referenda on citizen petitions and single member constituencies for the Lower House.

Comment:

The PSL leader is sending out a clear signal that he is open to a primary process on the opposition side to determine who should take on President Duda. He feels confident that he could do well in such a process and that his party could profit from it.

But the devil will lie in the details. It was easy for the Civic Platform back in 2010 to hold a primary among the party members to determine who should be the Presidential candidate.

How would it work for three parties doing it alongside each other? Would it be open to members of these parties only? Or would it be open to all voters, and if so how would that be organised in a country with no primary tradition? Or would it be open just to declared opposition voters in a country where voters do not register party allegiance?

However, it's an odd proposal coming from Mr Kosiniak-Kamysz. He was the man who broke up the European Coalition of the opposition parties, and now he is proposing they unite around one single Presidential candidate. Unity at your convenience, sir.

In reality, there already is a primary system in place. It's called the first round of the election in which all parties can field their candidate. Looking at the electoral arithmetic and geography it is obvious that President Duda standing for PiS will make it into that second round against one of the opposition’s candidates.

So why bother with a primary election or process? The second round will allow the opposition to unite anyway around someone who has proven they have the biggest support in a real election.

Yes, a primary process would increase the exposure of opposition candidates. Maybe lead to there being more of them for the electorate to consider. But it would also limit that choice in the actual election, especially if the parties choose to go for a closed primary system.

What the PSL leader’s idea shows is that he is very much on the same page as Donald Tusk. Mr Tusk had wanted the PSL leader to be the opposition’s PM designate if they had united for the Parliamentary polls. Now he seems to be open for the PSL leader to be the joint Presidential candidate.

But PO will be anxious about making way for the PSL leader. So will the SLD. It is likely that they would only accept such a primary process if Mr Tusk himself was prepared to participate as a potential presidential candidate in it. Otherwise the proposed beauty contest could cause them more internal headaches.


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