Analysis: Opposition candidate questions large-scale investments

Andrzej Duda and his main opposition rival, Rafał Trzaskowski, have clashed over large scale capital investment projects such as the Solidarity Transport Hub and the construction of the Vistula Spit Canal.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and the incumbent President Andrzej Duda it supports chose to make the big government capital investment projects as the battleground for a clash with the Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, the candidate of the main opposition Civic Platform (PO). Mr Trzaskowski had last week intimated that he would press for the government to postpone these projects, both of which he has criticised in the past. In an interview with “Super Express” on Monday the PO candidate argued that he would prefer major motorway building to these prestige projects.

The investments

The Solidarity Transport Hub is a major infrastructural national investment made up of the construction of a large airport near Warsaw, together with a railway and road interchange. It has been opposed by Mr Trzaskowski on the grounds of being an example of the government’s obsession with ‘giant’ projects, with the PO candidate questioning the need for their development since the construction of a major hub type airport in relatively near-by Berlin.

The construction of the Vistula Spit Canal is to give the city of Elbląg and some other Polish ports direct access to the sea without vessels needing to pass through waters that are part of the Russian Federation’s Kaliningrad region. The investment has been criticised by environmentalists, questioned by the EC and the Russian Federation and was called pointless by Mr Trzaskowski.

President and PM in show of solidarity

President Duda and PM Mateusz Morawiecki on Saturday held a joint press conference at the site of the construction of the Vistula Spit Canal. They argued that the project was essential to the development of the Warmińsko-Mazurskie region and to Poland’s sovereignty by lifting the need to negotiate access to the sea via Russian territory. They also cited the Solidarity transport hub as another example of a critical strategic investment that would expand Poland’s potential and create badly needed jobs and growth in the regions.

Both the President and the PM emphasised that for such large scale projects to be completed successfully there is a need for close collaboration and good relations between the President and the government. This was much more likely to continue if President Duda is re-elected they hinted. The ruling party also emphasised that Mr Trzaskowski’s opposition to both projects was in line with the interests of Germany over the transport hub and Russia over the construction over the Vistula Canal.

While the voters may wish for there to be harmony between different levels of government they do not always vote in ways that are guided by that. In the 2018 local government elections the ruling PiS made great play of the need for mayors of large cities to work well with the government. But this did not prevent PiS from losing ground in the big cities to the opposition PO.

Nor are large capital projects always a source of votes. In fact the last PO administration failed to be re-elected despite a major advance in the construction of a motorway network.

The ruling party is likely therefore this week to claim credit for its handling of the pandemic. It is that handling which has enabled it to maintain progress in easing the lockdown. The ruling party will be keen to remind voters about these achievements.

Trzaskowski attempts to limit areas of disagreement

Rafał Trzaskowski on Saturday held an open air rally in the city of Poznań. He did not make the capital projects a key part of this message. Instead he chose to limit the areas of dispute with the ruling party.

In what was a departure from the messaging often associated with the PO in recent years he said that the universal child benefit 500+ programme had been a success and should be retained. But he went further, he said that the PiS diagnosis in 2015 of too little having been done to help the disadvantaged in society had been correct. And he also praised President Lech Kaczyński for the PiS president’s speech in Tbilisi during the Georgian-Russia conflict in 2008, saying that as a Pole he felt proud of the President’s actions.

These three messages were important to build a narrative of reaching out and distancing himself from the image of a president who would oppose all government policies. It also attempted to put right a mistake the PO had made after the 2015 elections of not acknowledging its failings when in government.

The PO candidate has successfully seized the mantle of being the main opposition candidate. He has clawed back ground lost by the previous PO candidate Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska to the Polish People’s Party candidate Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and the celebrity TV presenter and independent candidate Szymon Hołownia.

Both the PSL and the independent candidates have lost ground since Mr Trzaskowski joined the race on 15 May. The PSL candidate has lost support he was gaining in the cities and the independent Mr Hołownia has had less media attention paid to his campaign. Rumours are beginning to circulate that Mr Hołownia may lack the resources to keep up with his rivals in the race, and there has been speculation that he might give way to the PO candidate in exchange for becoming that party’s nominee to replace Mr Trzaskowski as Mayor of Warsaw should the PO candidate win the presidency.