No candidates debate before the election

The Civic Platform (PO) candidate, Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski has decided not to participate in the town hall style debate organised by public TVP network in the town of Końskie in the Świętokrzyskie province and for Monday. He has proposed to organise a debate on the same day in the city of Leszno in western Poland and invited both the media and the President to attend.

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Mr Trzaskowski’s decision came after President Andrzej Duda, standing for reelection with the support of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) turned down the offer of attending a debate which was to be staged by the commercial TVN network with portals Onet.pl and Wp.pl last Thursday. He said that he could not agree to dictate from one TV network.

The President argued that the three main TV networks, TVP, TVN, and Polsat, should agree to hold a debate together. But neither the public TVP network nor the TVN network responded with any interest to a proposal that was made by the commercial Polsat network to stage a debate that would be hosted by all three main networks.

The proposal that a debate should be organised by Mr Trzaskowski himself was laughed out of court by President Duda’s campaign team. They have called it a “cabaret-style proposal”. They said it was ridiculous for Mr Trzaskowski to claim that the TVP organised town hall style debate would be “a fix” and then to invite the President to a debate which was organised by the opposition.

TVP have decided to set up a town hall style debate in Końskie because some time ago the former leader of the PO Grzegorz Schetyna said that elections are not won in exclusive Warsaw districts like Wilanów but in towns like Końskie. President Duda has welcomed the proposal to hold a town hall style debate. His campaign team have accused Rafał Trzaskowski of fearing questions from the general public.

Mr Trzaskowski has attended a TVP organised debate with all the 11 registered candidates that was held before the first round of the presidential election. He complained afterward about the questions being asked, claiming they favoured President Duda.

TVP also set up a debate between the then 10 registered candidates before the voided election of 10 May. The PO was represented by its candidate at the time, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska.

This will be the first time since 1990 that there will be no public debate between the two candidates involved in the second round of a presidential contest. In 1995, 2005, 2010 and 2015 voters were able to see televised debates between the top two candidates. No such debate took place in 2000 as the election in that year was decided in the first round without the need for a run-off.

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TVP is obliged by broadcasting law to attempt to organise a debate between the candidates before the run-off. Since Mr Trzaskowski said he did not want any TVP journalist to decide what questions would be asked, the format of a town hall style debate in which questions would come from the audience and the viewers via the net was proposed. But all to no avail.

With the polls showing the election race to be extremely tight, neither of the candidates wants to make a slip at a critical time. They do not want to debate in hostile territory in which the opponent might have an advantage. This is why Mr Duda did not want to debate at the TVN network that has been campaigning against him and the ruling party, and Mr Trzaskowski refused to trust public TVP with organising a town hall debate.

The proposal made by the commercial Polsat TV network of all three channels running the debate seemed the logical way out. But that has not been taken up by either of the other networks.

The losers are the voters. In a second round when there are only two candidates left it would be natural for them to be able to see how they cope in a debate. There are three possible formats for such a debate: town hall style, meet the press and one on one with a moderator just keeping time and order.

The problem is that relations between the two warring sides of the political divide are so bad and trust all but absent that agreeing anything becomes almost impossible. And both the TVN and TVP networks are also in severe conflict, each accusing the other of being the campaign HQ of one of the candidates.


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