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Jarosław Gowin Jarosław Kaczyński Poland Politics Zbigniew Ziobro Commentary

Polish politics: A risky game of playing chicken

One upcoming vote may decide the future course of Polish politics, writes columnist of Rzeczpospolita daily Michał Kolanko

editor: REMIX NEWS
author: Michał Kolanko

The rules of playing chicken are well-known: Two cars speed at each other and the first to swerve to the side loses.

Over the last few weeks there is a rising perception that this is the direction in which the debate concerning the vote over expanding the EU’s own resources, basically the European Recovery Fund and the Polish National Recovery Plan, is heading.

For all participants in this conflict, this vote has become a vehicle for fulfilling their own aims and interests, which is understandable. This is how politics works. Yet, simultaneously, in a situation so dire, the consequences of such actions may lead to serious consequences that last for months and even years.

As government spokesman Piotr Muller announced recently, it is very likely that the vote will take place in May, maybe in a few weeks. The clock is ticking.

Agency, which is an action or intervention producing a particular effect, is an area which is crucial to not only Law and Justice (PiS) but also the opposition.

After a year of reacting to the pandemic crisis, PiS needs to regain the ability to impose political topics and set the agenda. Most of all, it needs to regain the ability to practically change the way of life of people and improve it. The child social benefit program was such an idea.

Nevertheless, fulfilling promises is not possible without announcing new ones. This is where the Polish New Deal comes in, but it will not be a reality without EU funds. On the other hand, it is also a PiS project made by the Kaczyński-Morawiecki tandem. And Zbigniew Ziobro’s Solidarity Poland (PiS’s coalition partner) does not care for Morawiecki’s success.

Therefore, PiS is forced to search for support among the opposition, but some of it wants to show its own agency by blocking the Polish New Deal legislation. PiS does not believe that these parties truly want to block the legislation and has been approaching the matter ostensibly. Nonetheless, Law and Justice is risking that the opposition’s bluff will not be a bluff and a few votes will lead to a rejection of the legislation in the first round of voting. This is unlikely, but possible. There may be stronger opposition within PiS’ club than Kaczyński assumes and the same goes for divisions within the Left.

This could lead to early elections. The opposition would gain agency but at a high price.

Let’s assume that PiS loses the first vote concerning Poland using the EU’s funding resources. What’s next? First, the Untied Right coalition falls apart, which leads to the creation of a minority government and perhaps snap elections. This would be a risk for PiS, but the opposition could have issues as well. This is because PiS would emphasize in its campaign that the opposition blocked billions from the EU.

PiS has its “New Deal” which is a potentially attractive election program which could fuel the campaign. The opposition, by voting against it, will come off to at least some of the public as the “total opposition” despite trying to abandon that image of itself through a series of program proposals. Of course, the leaders of public opinion who support the opposition are in favor of taking a hard line against the Polish New Deal. This is what the opposition’s iron electoral base demands, but this electorate is not what wins elections.

This is a risk for the opposition, especially since the Civic Platform (PO) is currently being threatened by Szymon Hołownia, who has already announced that he will vote for the EU plan. There is no common strategy, and this cohesion is what the opposition needs to fulfill its plans of creating a joint “technical government” if they can remove PiS from power.

Will the opposition be able to create it alongside the Confederation and Jarosław Gowin (anther PiS coalition partner in the United Right)? The latter especially has his own plans of creating a new center-right party.

The opposition wants to simultaneously overthrow PiS but also later accept EU funds and take over power in Poland. Instead, it may be left with nothing.