For the Polish left, a united opposition is out of the question

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By Roman Broszkowski

With polls suggesting that there is a real chance of finally overthrowing the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s largest opposition group, the Centrist Civic Coalition (KO), has called for several occasions pro-democracy heterogeneity the opposition to contest the country’s legislative elections in 2023 as unique “unit list”.

But while some left-wing activists believe such a coalition is necessary – and some experts argue that a single bloc could tip the electoral calculus in favor of the opposition – left-wing party officials and MPs appear to be at odds. almost unanimously to keep KO at arm’s length – at least until after the election.

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In Poland, “the votes are counted according to the d’Hondt system… which is beneficial for [coalitions] which are bigger,” says Joanna Sawicka, senior analyst at think tank Polityka Insight.

“The biggest opposition party – Civic Coalition – wants to create a common list to create a grand coalition and get more seats and [ensure] all the democratic opposition parties cross the threshold,” she adds. Under the electoral system, parties that win less than 5% of the vote and coalitions that win less than 8% do not enter parliament.

But while Tusk has framed his overtures as forming a united democratic front against increasingly authoritarian tendencies in the ruling coalition, others argue that the push for a joint slate is actually about maneuvering for power before forming. a post-election government.

Even the most optimistic polls for the Civic Coalition, a group dominated by Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) party, show it will not win enough seats to form an outright majority, which means that a coalition government is virtually guaranteed after next fall’s election if Law and Justice and its allies lose.

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“The PO will not be a ruling party on its own… If you look at the polls, that’s obvious. None of the parties in Poland can govern alone, not even the PiS. There has always been a coalition government since 1990,” said Anna Maria Żukowska, an MP from the Left (Lewica) coalition, Poland’s second-largest opposition group.

“So, as La Gauche, we know that forming a future government requires forming it with other pro-democracy parties.”

In addition to The Left alliance, other major opposition parties have also signaled their willingness to enter into a grand government coalition after the elections which would likely be led by the Civic Coalition.

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Still, it remains to be seen how much power each party would have in such a government. For members of The Left, they believe their power will stem from a potential ability to play the role of kingmaker for Tusk’s future premiership.

“Our doctrine is that if you want to apply anything…you have to have the necessary majority seats,” says Żukowska.

“Well, Donald Tusk can make you a promise, to legalize same-sex partnerships, for example. Of course he can. Why not? But why would he keep that promise, given so many other promises he has failed to keep? But if you have the seats in parliament he needs to become prime minister, you can get him to deliver that. We hope to have this power in the future Sejm.

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In addition to possible pre-government maneuvers, another motivation for PO’s push for unity could be to signal to voters the alliance’s willingness to cooperate, even if such cooperation is unlikely.

“People like politicians to cooperate with each other,” says Sawicka. “The greatest support for this cooperation is among the electorate of the Civic Coalition [while] in other ridings, support is still quite strong, but certainly lower.

Indeed, some left-wing activists believe that working with the Civic Coalition before the election, forming a common list, will be necessary to ensure not only that the PiS is excluded from power, but that the left is included in the government. post-election.

“The left wing is the most anti-PiS in general,” says Katarzyna Przyborska, editor-in-chief of Krytyka Politycznaa leftist newspaper.

“Left voters want to keep the PiS out of power, and if they [think] that their votes can be [wasted]they will vote KO, as for example, during the [2020] presidential election, most voters on the left voted for [the centrist opposition candidate Rafał] Trzaskowski.

During this election, the candidate of La Gauche, Robert Biedroń, received a disappointing 2.2% of the vote while Trzaskowski – a leader of the PO’s socially more liberal wing – won 30.3% in the first round and came close to winning the second round, with 49% of the vote against 51% for incumbent Andrzej Duda, backed by the PiS.

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However, several representatives of the Left party are still not convinced by Przyborska’s argument. They argue that a unity list can have the opposite effect and demotivate each party’s grassroots voters.

“A common list has always been an impossible thing to do because of the differences between the programs, the differences between our policies and our views on the economy. It could discourage future voters from voting for such a list”, says Żukowska.

“If there had been a single global list, the one who always voted PSL [the Polish People’s Party] – which is a conservative party – would have its candidate on the same list as, for example, me, who is a feminist, pro-abortionist and fighter for LGBT+ rights. This would be a bit awkward and could cause those who wanted to vote for an opposition to the PiS not to vote at all.

Other party activists note that there remains a great deal of distance between the policies of The Left and the Civic Coalition, particularly in areas concerning LGBT people and women’s rights, despite Tusk’s recent statements of support for abortion on demand and homosexual unions.

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“[The Civic Coalition] is not believable [on these issues]. This is one of the main things that people are also talking about in the polls, ”explains Zofia Malisz, member of the national council of Ensemble (Razem), one of the constituent parties of La Gauche.

“They’ve been in government twice already, and they promised in their election campaigns, for example, civil unions for LGBT people, and that never happened. They never stopped… the conservative assault on reproductive rights. They’ve always over-promised on that front, and they’ve never delivered.

However, Sawicka – the political analyst at Polityka Insight – downplays these political differences, noting that the Civic Coalition has tried to adopt a socially liberal tone on these issues. For her, the fundamental stumbling block for a unit list is trust.

“I can imagine that [the Civic Coalition] no longer trustworthy for these voters [who prioritise LGBT and women’s rights], but actually now they try to be very left in their social views and they talk a lot about civil rights, abortion rights, etc. “, she said. “For some people maybe [Tusk is not trustworthy]but he tries.

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Malisz, for his part, remains skeptical and points to the fate of other left-wing parties that have joined the Civic Coalition.

“The past teaches us that this is not really an invitation to partnership, what [Tusk] done, in practice,” she said. “When you look at the fate of the Polish Green Party…and you look at the program of this coalition they joined [PO]you don’t even find the word climate change there.

It seems increasingly unlikely that a united electoral group will include the left – or even that there will be a common opposition list.

“I don’t think there is a chance that the left will join a unity list because there will be no unity list at all,” says Żukowska.

“And it’s not even because of us. This is [because] Poland 2050 [Polska 2050] and Polish Coalition [Koalicja Polska] already decided months ago that they would not form or join such a list,” she adds, referring to two other opposition groups. “So it’s not even a question for the left.”

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So far from the elections, it is difficult to say what a failure of the opposition to form a unity list would mean. As the election campaign crystallizes in early 2023 things may become clearer and the variables simpler, but for now it is too difficult to say how the different party alliances will impact on the final number of seats and just as important – according to Sawicka – how big of a majority a new government would have.

“It is very difficult to predict how many voters will support [a joint electoral] coalition and how many of them will be demobilized,” says Sawicka. “According to the polls [in] that all parties [stand] separately, they can still form a majority after the election. So I don’t think it would be a disaster for them if they left separately, but they [are not] only fighting to form a majority. They also want to have a strong majority.

For Malisz, the best way to ensure this strong majority in the elections is for each party to maintain a distinct identity and communicate directly to the various voters its vision of a post-PiS Poland.

“We can speak to our electorate better if we’re not in one bag,” Malisz said. “We can go out and talk to people who support the left; they can go out and talk to people who support [Poland 2050 leader Szymon] Hołownia … PO can go out and … garner as much support as possible with his program. And after the election, we’ll see what comes out.

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Main image credit: Klub Lewicy/Flickr (under public domain)

Roman Broszkowski is an American freelance journalist. He has written about Poland and Polish politics for English-speaking audiences in media such as Political criticism.

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