Good Times

“A heart well prepared for adversity in bad times hopes, and in good times fears for a change in fortune.” The words of Roman poet Horace which seem as accurate a summing up of the human condition as any other. In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) seems to have little reason to fear for a change in fortune ahead of this autumn’s parliamentary elections which it seems set fair to win.

Addressing a three-day party convention in Katowice on Sunday, held by PiS and its allies as part of the United Right coalition, aimed at preparing an election platform, the party leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, told supporters: “Parliamentary elections will take place in October, perhaps in November… In this election we must score a victory which will allow us to maintain these [good] times.”

Under the title “Thinking Poland 2019”, which Kaczyński said 10,000 people attended and that more than 400 took part in panel discussions, the convention included debates by politicians and experts to sum up PiS’s current term in power and to discuss policy ideas for another term in office, before touring the country to rally support.

Meanwhile, the Civic Coalition, a grouping of opposition parties, has also begun a vote seeking tour. Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the Civic Platform (PO), Poland’s largest opposition party, announcing the tour also told a news conference on Friday that various opposition groups and local government officials were in talks to form a united front as part of the Civic Coalition for the parliamentary elections.

He said he hoped the rural-based Polish People’s Party (PSL), which was part of a broad coalition of Polish opposition parties during May’s European elections, would decide to join the Civic Coalition. Schetyna also said he was convinced that only a united opposition could beat PiS in the forthcoming elections. He appealed to “all communities” and “the democratic opposition” for “cooperation, openness and goodwill.”

But, of course, the opposition will need more than that if it is to win. As Schetyna himself said after the European elections, which PiS won, even on an increased voter turn-out, there is an idea somewhere, the opposition merely has to find it. Hardly the most rallying of cries – if the leader doesn’t know the message how can anybody else be expected to find it? Simply being against PiS will not be enough – negative campaigning seldom works against a positive message.

And the message PiS has is largely positive. PiS has delivered on its major spending pledges – without harming the economy which continues to grow strongly – that were the key to its 2015 election success, such as the 500+ programme, giving credence to the claim that it is the first governing party actually to help those less well off, those who felt they had missed out on the post 1989 economic growth. Despite doubts about the true motivation behind reforms to the judiciary, its approach to civil rights and even various allegations of government scandals, to name but three, many do feel PiS deserves credit for trying to tackle issues which previous governments had ignored.

Critics would argue that PiS has simply been looking after its own core voters, but that alone would not guarantee success. It is helped by the opposition’s still seeming to lack two principal attributes: a convincing figure head and a coherent and attractive programme of policies. Outbidding PiS on welfare benefit programmes is not an option so something more imaginative is needed – improving health and education, for example. Whether the opposition can be trusted actually to deliver is another matter.

There is many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, of course. But with the opposition still not clear on the configuration in which it fight the election, with an adviser to Robert Biedroń, the leader of Spring, an erstwhile member of the European coalition, suggesting it might be better for the opposition to “wait and let PiS defeat itself” by causing a “Greek crisis, huge unemployment, misery” as a result of its expensive social transfers, it seems that a PiS victory is more likely than not. Thus, for PiS and its supporters, a change in fortune is not imminent.

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