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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » June 3, 2009
European Parliament Election
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Hopefuls Hit Homestretch
June 3, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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The final days of the European Parliament election campaign abounded in radical charges, voiced especially by the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party. The one common element was that in attacking one another, parties and candidates concentrated more on problems at home than on European affairs.

The senior coalition Civic Platform (PO) party, which is the hands-down winner in opinion polls, planned to build its election campaign around one-on-one debates between PO candidates and their rivals from other parties. PiS candidates, however, avoided such confrontations at all costs, focusing on meetings with the electorate instead. One such case was in Cracow, where former Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro is one of few opposition politicians to occupy the top spot in the polls. Ziobro has repeatedly refused to debate PO candidate Róża Thun, the head of the European Commission Representation in Poland. Thun says Ziobro fears the debate could expose his ignorance of EU affairs, but that comment has not boosted her ratings.

There's a similar situation in Warsaw where Danuta Hübner, the EU commissioner for regional policy, is running in the elections as a PO candidate, trying in vain to arrange a debate with Michał Kamiński, a former Eurodeputy and currently a minister in the Office of the President. Here, however, polls indicate a victory for Hübner, although Warsaw may have a "dark horse" in Wojciech Olejniczak, the former chairman of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) who is quite popular and a very active politician in the Europe department.

The principal weapon of PiS in the closing days of the campaign was a controversial election spot featuring the same actress who had played a nurse in a TV spot for PO during the autumn 2007 parliamentary election campaign. In the new video, the protagonist wonders why she voted for PO in the first place and says she intends to show a "yellow card" to the government.

The controversial spot was made after PiS had offered to pay PO for rights to use an entire PO video from the previous election campaign, which ran under the slogan "For a Better Life." The opposition wanted the video to prove PO had failed to keep its election promises. Predictably, PO refused to allow the election spot to be aired in the new context and so PiS made a new video, hiring the same actress.

"My friends were proud I had helped PO win," the "nurse" says, after which the scenery changes and she continues: "Soon after, we started doubting the prime minister's promises." The nurse then complains about high prices, skyrocketing credit payments and life in Poland, which in her opinion is not better at all. She adds she "can't understand why shipyard workers get beaten up and why the prime minister keeps playing soccer." At the end, she says she would like the government to finally get to work. She displays a "yellow card" to the government and says she will vote for PiS.

Despite the biting video, opinion polls show that the electorate considers the PiS "medicine" a much worse prospect than the "disease" of PO rule. In a poll conducted 10 days before the elections, 45 percent of respondents said they would vote for PO, compared with 25 percent for PiS. The coalition of SLD and the Labor Union (UP) scored 11 percent and the junior partner in the ruling coalition, the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL), managed 7 percent. None of the remaining parties, including the Euroskeptical Libertas Polska, the leftist Agreement for the Future, or the former coalition partners of PiS from 2005-2007, the Samoobrona party and the ultra-right League of Polish Families (LPR), reached the 5-percent election threshold. If the polls turn out to reflect reality, Polish citizens will only choose from the four parties sitting in the Polish parliament.

Asked "will you take part in the elections to the European Parliament?" 37 percent of respondents said "yes, definitely" and 26 percent "probably." Every third respondent either decided not to vote at all (13 percent) or is likely not to go to the polls (19 percent).

On the evening of June 5, before all campaigning must end on June 6, President Lech Kaczyński will give a televised address. Piotr Kownacki, the head of the Office of the President, says Kaczyński will encourage Polish citizens to vote. PO members, however, fear the president may directly criticize the government and the ruling coalition and indirectly persuade people to vote for PiS, the party led by his twin brother Jarosław Kaczyński. That is what PO believes happened when the president gave an unprecedented address in the lower house of the parliament, speaking about the economic crisis.

Many observers of the Polish political scene believe that a crushing defeat in the Euro-elections on the part of PiS, which lost power to PO 18 months ago, would put the party in a disadvantageous situation. It would also harm the standing of Lech Kaczyński who is planning to run for reelection in 2010. According to recent polls, as many as 67 percent of Poles disapprove of Kaczyński as head of state. It is no secret that the incumbent's opponent will be the current prime minister, Donald Tusk. He lost the previous presidential election in 2005 to Kaczyński and this time is determined to take the highest office in Poland.
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