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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » August 1, 2013
Politics & Society
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Battle of Conventions
August 1, 2013   
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With his party losing public support and riven by internal feuds, Prime Minister Donald Tusk scrambled to reassert his authority over his ruling Civic Platform (PO) at a convention at the end of June.

The same weekend, a jubilant Jarosław Kaczyński, whose opposition conservative Law and Justice (PiS) has leaped ahead in the opinion polls, told supporters at his party’s annual conference to prepare for power.

Tensions between Poland’s two political heavyweights have escalated after a series of polls have shown that Tusk’s center-right PO has been outdistanced by PiS for the first time since 2007. If parliamentary elections were held today, PiS would emerge the winner, and some analysts say it could even secure enough parliamentary seats to not need a coalition partner.

Tusk had a far more complicated situation to deal with at his PO party’s annual conference than PiS leader Kaczyński. After six years of leading a coalition government that includes the Polish People’s Party (PSL) as its junior partner, the PO is for the first time behind PiS. In the latest survey, PiS had 30 percent support, compared with the PO’s 25 percent. A growing number of Poles believe domestic policy is headed in the wrong direction and around 30 percent of those surveyed would like to see Tusk step down.

For the first time, Tusk also faces a situation in which his leadership of the PO is being questioned. Former Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin, recently dismissed by Tusk and widely seen as the leader of a conservative faction within the PO, announced during the convention that he intends to run against Tusk for party chief.

The PO changed its articles of association during the convention so that the party leader will now be chosen by all of the PO’s tens of thousands of members in a direct ballot. The results of the vote are expected in late August and the second round, if required, will take place shortly thereafter. Even though Gowin’s chances of winning the election are slim, according to political commentators, the very fact that Tusk has an internal rival is unprecedented. Former Interior Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, who has a reputation as the party’s éminence grise, decided not to run against Tusk.

Tusk appeared somewhat defensive as he addressed delegates at the PO convention. “For me, it is a good sign that after so many years, you still feel like giving me a big hand when you see me,” Tusk told the conference. “Let this be a clear sign of your positive energy—energy which Poland needs and will continue to need in the coming years.”

Tusk said the future of Poland will largely depend on what becomes of the PO. He described his party as the first since the collapse of communism in 1989 to successfully reconcile different opinions and ideas. He insisted that the PO is the only party capable of leading Poland out of the economic crisis.

Tusk promised to unveil new reform plans in the fall, while also hinting that some changes could be made to his Cabinet. Applause interrupted Tusk’s speech several times, but according to most commentators, the prime minister did not have anything new to say. Observers pointed out that the government has had problems following up on planned reforms in the past.

Unlike Tusk, PiS’s Kaczyński was clearly at ease during his party’s convention. Hot on the heels of his party’s success in the opinion polls and after a string of election victories in several Polish cities, Kaczyński was reelected PiS leader with 98 percent of the vote from the 1,200 or so delegates at the convention. He was the sole candidate.

Kaczyński told his party’s convention that PiS was capable of forming a government that would work as a team, “a government guided by a single ideology and made up of people who want to exercise a single policy.”

Kaczyński criticized the Tusk government for what he described as a foreign policy that could endanger Poland’s sovereignty in the long run. He also mentioned the possibility of early parliamentary elections. He said, “Tusk has said that as long as he is in power, the election will be held on the date set by the constitution [in 2015]... but history has been known to spring some unexpected surprises.”

One of the convention’s VIP guests, Piotr Duda, head of the Solidarity trade union, received a standing ovation after a speech that tore into the Tusk administration. “Tusk has no right to speak on behalf of the working people in Poland,” Duda said. “I take full responsibility for my words: the prime minister of the Polish government is a coward and a liar!”

Duda added that the government was trying to turn Polish workers into slaves. He also lambasted Polish employers for being desperate to compete with China by cutting labor costs. “This is not the way to go,” Duda said. “We are a member state of the EU where certain standards apply.”

Addressing PiS members, Duda said, “I am convinced you will keep your promises about the rules on the minimum wage, the retirement age, and about many other proposals to secure a better future for workers.”

Duda called on PiS to avoid making mistakes in its bid for power. “The liberal approach is in ruins,” Duda said. “If you go in the right direction, you will find friends in Solidarity. I am asking you to take notice of the people and of the workers.”
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