Poland’s largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), has unveiled a set of policy ideas that it hopes will return it to power. It has also called for other opposition parties – from the left to the centre-right – to form a coalition in order to remove the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government.
At an event in Warsaw – held without an audience due to coronavirus restrictions but broadcast live online – PO’s leader, Borys Budka, and one its leading stars, Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, set out the party’s plans under the slogan “Time for change”.
Whereas Polish party conferences are often lengthy affairs, today’s event was lasted only half an hour, with the two speakers giving what were described in advance as “TEDx-style” presentations.
Nevertheless, PO presented a number of policy proposals – as well as less specific ambitions – that they hope to introduce. Among them were:
- A clearer separation of church and state, including the abolishment of the state-financed Church Fund (which provides money for clergy and church-related activity)
- “Depoliticising” the prosecutorial service (which PiS put under the authority of the justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, in 2016)
- “Repairing” the judicial institutions overhauled by PiS, including the Constitutional Tribunal, Supreme Court and National Council of the Judiciary
- Increasing healthcare spending to 6% of GDP
- Classifying as a national park the entire area of the primeval Białowieża Forest (where PiS controversially permitted logging in 2016)
- A complete ban on the import of rubbish to Poland from abroad for processing (but which has often ended up illegally dumped or burned)
- Abolishing the 24-hour news channel of state broadcaster TVP, which has been used by PiS to promote its message and attack opponents
- Providing state reimbursement for the costs of seeing specialist doctors, for spending on education, and for measures to reduce Poland’s air pollution (which is the worst in the EU)
- Making it possible for referendums to be called on removing an MP or senator from office
- Creating a new special prosecutorial office to investigate state scandals
- Establishing “full transparency and openness in public life” by creating a central register to track what public money and property is being used for, and whom it is going to, including contracts signed by state-owned companies
During his presentation, Budka also appealed to other centrist, liberal and left-wing groups to work together with PO in efforts to remove PiS from power.
Liczby nie kłamią. Jesteśmy w stanie wygrać, ale żeby zmieniać Polskę, potrzebujemy coś więcej. Nawet najlepsze pomysły nie będą mogły być zrealizowane, jeśli w Pałacu Prezydenckim będzie zasiadał hamulcowy. #Koalicja276 jest potrzebna, by obalić weto Prezydenta. @bbudka ✌️🇵🇱 pic.twitter.com/DFrITFbLE0
— PlatformaObywatelska (@Platforma_org) February 6, 2021
Budka outlined an ambition for the united opposition not just to win a parliamentary majority of 231 seats, but for it to obtain the three-fifths majority of 276 seats needed to overturn vetoes by President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally who was re-elected for a second five-year term last July.
“[Today] is to be the first step to unite the opposition and show that we have common goals,” said Budka, standing in front of a graphic naming the proposed grouping “Coalition 276” and suggesting it could include the centrist Poland 2050 (Polska 2050), The Left (Lewica) and centre-right Polish People’s Party (PSL).
“Today in the world there are no completely right-wing or left-wing parties,” claimed Budka. “Today we are faced with a simple choice between truth and lies – and we, of course, choose truth.” PO’s leader said that polling already shows that such a united opposition could defeat PiS in an election.
Analysis of polls by Warsaw-based political scientist Ben Stanley this week showed that a combination of the PO-led Civic Coalition, Poland 2050, The Left and PSL could obtain a narrow parliamentary majority.
Estimated seat shares are subject to error, but a single-party majority is outside PiS's 95% credible interval. pic.twitter.com/QP4MqAKx1S
— Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) February 2, 2021
PO has during its time in opposition repeatedly called for the opposition to unite. It has formed coalitions with various partners – ranging from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) to the agrarian PSL and liberal Modern (Nowoczesna) – ahead of elections.
None has, however, resulted in victory so far. After ruling Poland from 2007-15 in coalition with PSL, PO has subsequently lost six elections – parliamentary, presidential, local and European – in a row to PiS and its allies.
However, at least year’s presidential election, PO’s candidate, Trzaskowski, did come close to unseating Duda. After finishing over 13 percentage points behind his rival in the open first round, Trzaskowski lost by just 49% to 51% in the subsequent run-off, when supporters of other opposition candidates rallied behind him.
Many in PO have taken that as vindication of their belief that only by working together can opponents of PiS remove it from power.
Commentators note, however, that any government combining parties ranging from the left to the centre-right would likely be unstable, and would find it difficult to agree on many pressing issues.
Even PO itself, which combines more liberal and conservative wings, has been unable to present a clear and consistent position on issues such as LGBT rights and abortion, which have become key dividing lines in Polish politics and society.
PO and its leader, Budka, have recently come under growing pressure from the rise of Poland 2050, founded last year by political newcomer Szymon Hołownia after he finished third in the presidential election.
Two weeks ago, two lawmakers associated with PO defected to Poland 2050. Last week, Hołownia presented his own proposals for separating church and state. Building on the momentum of his presidential run, Hołownia his movement rise rapidly in the polls, where it is now running third, just behind PO, whose support has fallen.
PO wants to force early elections and then win them with this broad coalition (KO, PL2050, PSL, Lewica). It's hard to see how they would be able to agree on a coherent electoral programme (PO can't even reach agreement on the abortion issue within its own ranks).
— Stanley Bill (@StanleySBill) February 6, 2021
Main image credit: Platforma_org/Twitter
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.