Opposition’s new candidate goes for polarisation strategy

The Civic Platform’s (PO) new candidate for President and Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski is reported to be making major changes to the party’s strategy and approach to the presidential election. The date of the election is still not known, though Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday said that it should take place on 28 June.

Mr Trzaskowski has decided to change the campaign team responsible for the PO’s campaign strategy and its execution. He is sidelining those who are blamed for the failed campaign of Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, especially targeting those who are blamed for the failed gambit of arguing for a public boycott of the postal vote. But her campaign has also been criticised for failing to capitalise on the asset of having the only woman candidate for president standing in the election and for its lack of direction.

No one can deny that it is a campaign which went badly wrong. Ms Kidawa-Błońska started it with poll ratings of well over twenty percent and finished it in the 4-6 percent bracket. Her departure was a major relief for her party.

Mr Trzaskowski himself intends to keep his campaign team very much in the background. It may never be publicly confirmed who is in his entourage.

But it is widely acknowledged by sources close to the PO that the strategy of the campaign will be to look for polarisation back to the dominant PiS v PO cleavage in Polish politics. Mr Trzaskowski has from the start of the campaign attacked the government and the media who back it. He plans to energise the electorate that was put to sleep by Ms Kidawa-Błońska’s calls for a public boycott of the vote.

The Warsaw mayor will avoid attacks on other opposition candidates but concentrate on the incumbent. He hopes to squeeze the votes of the independent centrist Szymon Hołownia, the Polish Peoples Party’s Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and the Left’s Robert Biedroń by projecting himself as the main opposition candidate. He hopes that whatever votes they manage to mobilise will transfer to him in the second round of polling.

Early polling shows him to be getting support in the 15-20 percent range. It's a considerable improvement on the last polls taken during Ms Kidawa-Błońska’s campaign, but it is still a little short of the poll ratings the PO is getting.

Mr Trzaskowski has already said that he will make health spending and reforming the public media his key priorities for the campaign. But he will no doubt be asked about his foreign policy and defence policies where he will stress the need for Poland to re-establish good relations with Germany and France.

Mr Trzaskowski will face criticism for his record as Warsaw Mayor. The main charge will be that he has not kept his promise on a wide range of investments and spending that had been highlighted during his campaign for Mayor in 2018. His environmental record will come under scrutiny, especially over the breakdown of the sewage plant that caused a major seepage into the Vistula River. He is also likely to be attacked for signing the LGBT charter which made provisions for LGBT sex education in schools.

But the mayor will hit back arguing that the government’s policies have curtailed the finances of local authorities and that Warsaw continues to be a popular location for investors. However, his metropolitan image, while a hit with voters in the big cities, may be less of a draw in rural and small town areas in which the PO has struggled to make an impact in the past five years.

President’s team waiting for the starting pistol

President Andrzej Duda has not made any changes to his campaign team or policy stances. His lead in the polls has fallen considerably since early May. Few polls now show him being able to win the election outright in the first round and his lead seems to have fallen to 20 points plus rather than 30 or 40 points plus in the heyday of the campaign.

The reason for the fall in support may be connected with the fact that opposition voters are now regaining an interest in the election after the departure of Ms Kidawa-Błońska. However, restlessness with the lockdown and unfavourable media coverage relating to questions about the family of the health minister having benefited from the sale of uncertified face masks and the controversy surrounding the treatment of a protest song by a state radio station may also be contributory factors.

The problem the President’s campaign team faces is that it has already fought the election campaign with the view of winning it in May. Now it is facing a new contest in which readjustments may have to be made. There is visible irritation within the ruling camp at the fact that it was not able to hold the election in May and at the fact that the main opposition party has changed its candidate.

But all will have to be forgotten once the Speaker of the Lower House names the new election date. The ruling party wants that date to be 28 June. In order for the election to be held and the Supreme Court able to validate the result, that does seem the safest date. As long as the Senate can next week process the legislation making way for a hybrid postal and traditional ballot, the State Electoral Commission (PKW) has said that it should be possible to keep to that date.