Main opposition party elects new leader

The Civic Platform (PO) has elected Borys Budka as its new leader. He succeeds Grzegorz Schetyna at the helm of Poland’s biggest opposition party.

The Civic Platform (PO) has elected the former Justice Minister and current head of the Civic Coalition’s (KO) Parliamentary Caucus as its new party leader. The election result was announced on Saturday, with Mr Budka securing close to 80 percent of the votes cast.

Mr Budka was the candidate favoured by former PM and President of the European Council Donald Tusk. He was also supported by younger members of the party and two candidates who stood down from the leadership race: Joanna Mucha and Bartosz Arłukowicz. Grzegorz Schetyna, the outgoing leader who did not stand for re-election, supported the former defence minister and current deputy party leader, Tomasz Siemoniak. The other two candidates who stood were former Mayor of Wrocław and culture minister in the last PO government Senator Bogdan Zdrojewski and former interior minister in Donald Tusk’s government and current MP Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz.

Borys Budka gained 6,481 votes (78.77 percent), Tomasz Siemoniak 920 (11.18 percent), Bogdan Zdrojewski 623 (7.57 percent.), and Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz 204 (2.48 percent.).

The number of PO members voting was well down on the last competitive election for PO leader. When Donald Tusk had been challenged by Jarosław Gowin in 2013 nearly 22,000 members voted in that contest.

Admittedly this time round the voting took place in 190 locations throughout Poland, rather than postally or by internet, as was the case back in 2013. But the fact that only 76.4 percent of the 10,816 members who were actually registered to vote did so, suggests that the party is suffering from a fall in the number of both activists and members.

Analysis:

The leading lights of the PO are relieved that voting did not have to go to a second round in two weeks time. Many in the party feel that the PO has already lost time in the unfolding Presidential race. The party’s candidate, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska was selected in a primary contest in mid-December but still does not have a campaign team and budget to assist her.

The PO is also facing a major challenge in terms of its future place in the Polish political scene. According to analyst Andrzej Machowski, writing for daily “Gazeta Wyborcza”, the party is facing the problem that the conservative electorate is moving to the right and the liberal electorate is moving to the left. The PO’s traditional stance has been to play down cultural identity matters relating to the Church and gender issues in favour of accentuating liberal economics and European integration.

But the liberal and left leaning voters are becoming interested in cultural issues, such as religious education in schools, LGBT rights and abortion. The only political force which has clear messaging on these issues at present is the “Left”, which succeeded in getting back into the Polish Parliament at the last election in October.

The PO is left competing for the centre with the Polish People’s Party (PSL), which have now encroached on the PO’s territory in urban areas with its centre-right messaging. In the Presidential election that centre ground is even more crowded with the emergence of Szymon Hołownia, the TV celebrity and liberal Catholic activist.

On the right of the political spectrum the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) are dominant, but with a challenger emerging in the shape of the radical right “Confederation”. According to Andrzej Machowski the PO has little choice but to shift to the left where its voters are moving. Unless it does so it may face being left behind with its voters moving across to the “Left” coalition. However, any move to the left will expose the party to potential splits and loss of support on its right flank, mainly to the PSL.

Mr Budka is likely to attempt to maintain the party’s anti-PiS stance in the hope that it can continue to act as a “catch-all” party for those wishing to see the back of the current ruling party. That strategy requires the PO to do well in the upcoming Presidential election. Currently Ms Kidawa-Błońska is trailing the PiS backed incumbent Andrzej Duda by over twenty percentage points in the polls.


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