Analysis: Main opposition party Presidential campaign stalls

Małgorzata Kidawa Błońska, the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO) was elected in a primary process on December 14 last year. A month later it is still not clear who will be in her campaign team and what resources her party will make available for her campaign.

Officially politicians from her party say there is no problem and that the Presidential campaign is already awash with policy advisers and that the make-up of the campaign HQ will be announced soon. But off the record briefings indicate that funding and decisions on the make-up of the campaign team are still to be made.

This Presidential campaign is currently overshadowed by the race for the leadership of the party that is preoccupying Civic Platform activists. The contest is hotting up with six candidates having received enough nominations to stand.

The current leader of the party, Grzegorz Schetyna is not standing again for the leadership of his party. This may be one of the reasons why he prefers to leave financial decisions about the commitments the party is to make to Ms Kidawa-Błońska’s campaign to his successor. But another could be that Mr Schetyna and Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska fell out when the party leader seemed to back another candidate, the mayor of Poznań Jacek Jaśkowiak, against he in the primaries within the party.

It could also be the case that the party is fearful of losing its state subsidies, The reason why this may happen is that it made a donation to a foundation it set up which, it is rumoured, may be questioned by the State Electoral Commission (PKW).

The PKW is the body that not only administers elections but also decides on the legality of political party accounts. Only those parties whose accounts are approved by the PKW may benefit from state funding.

Other political parties in Poland have been hit by PKW decisions not to approve their accounts in the past. The “Modern” party lost its state funding due to an accounting error after the 2015 election and this contributed to its demise. The Polish People’s Party (PSL) too had its support withdrawn and struggled for years.

State funding is now essential for political parties in Poland as the law severely restricts the amount of money that they can raise from individuals and companies. Public funding in Poland has effectively become the main source of funding for political parties. Since the parties in Poland are not mass membership parties, nor have they affiliates making contributions, without generous state funding parties would be dependent on membership fees and individual donations.

But should the PO’s accounts be challenged a political storm would ensue. This is because after changes in Poland’s judicial system Parliament will be electing seven new members of the PKW Board (who have to be judges). Should the PO’s accounts get challenged it is inevitable that the party would argue that it was being discriminated against.

Comment:

The party leadership contest is getting in the way of the PO’s presidential campaign. Until it is clear who the new leader is going to be it is unlikely that any decisions will be taken.

Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska is over 20 percentage points behind the incumbent President Andrzej Duda. That is a big deficit to make up and time is pressing. However, fortunately for her and the PO the other candidates have not really been gaining on her. She seems to be relatively safe in second place, even though way behind President Duda.

It would of course be disastrous for the PO should it lose its state subsidies for legal reasons. Paradoxically, this is now less likely because the new members of the PKW may wish to avoid a political storm. It would be an irony if the PO’s funding is saved indirectly via the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) campaign for the reform of the judiciary.


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