Two Years to Win Back Voters
December 19, 2013
Should the Civic Platform (PO), the senior partner in the coalition government, win the next parliamentary election, it will return to power for a third consecutive term and set a record extremely hard to break. Every election between 1989 and 2011 saw a different coalition coming to power. Until 2011, the year when the PO repeated its election victory from 2007, no other party had managed to stay in power for more than four years—and sometimes parties that had been in government failed to make it back into parliament at all.
Ahead of the 2011 election, opinion polls indicated that the PO had a safe lead and even though the final results were less rosy for the Civic Platform than predicted, the party still won relatively easily. In the first months of his second term, Prime Minister Donald Tusk even sarcastically remarked that his party had “nobody to lose against.” Fast forward to today and the situation has changed dramatically. The PO has for months been struggling to regain the top spot in the polls. But the gap between the PO and Jarosław Kaczyński’s opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party seems to be widening rather than shrinking. A recent poll caused shock when it found that for the first time in history the PO was backed by less than 20 percent of voters. In some other polls, PiS has scored over 10 percentage points more than the PO. Now the PO does have somebody to lose against—and the defeat could be a painful one.
The next parliamentary election is scheduled for the autumn of 2015. An early election is highly unlikely, because Polish law only permits the parliamentary term to be cut short if parliament fails to adopt the budget, if the government resigns and a new one cannot be formed due to an insufficient number of votes, or if deputies decide to dissolve parliament. None of these three scenarios is likely. The PO’s coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) does have a majority in parliament, albeit a slight one, and the government is not planning to resign. As for the third option, a left-wing politician once said that the strongest parliamentary faction in Poland was the “salary faction,” meaning that no deputy in their right mind would voluntarily give up their salary, allowances and other privileges. This still holds true.
Tusk and the PO have two more years to win back voters. According to surveys, the situation is unusual—while they are disappointed by the PO’s policies, Polish voters are not intending to back the opposition. Instead, they say they will simply stay at home on election day. Unless the PO manages to change their minds, the parliamentary election of 2015 could go down in history as having the lowest turnout ever. Poland has already seen some of the lowest turnouts in the EU—41, 54 and 49 percent in the three most recent elections. A low turnout will further strengthen PiS because, according to researchers, that party has disciplined supporters who are likely to go to the polls come election day.
Poland has entered 2014 with a reorganized and reshuffled government. According to Tusk, his new ministers will bring new energy into the government, in terms of both policies and the determination to put these policies into practice. The first test of how effective the reshuffle has been will be the European Parliament elections at the end of May.