Kaczynski, Kwasniewski go head to head in TV debate

Aleksander Kwasniewski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, photo: CTK

The people of Poland go to the polls in just two weeks' time, with general elections being held two years ahead of schedule. It is hoped the vote will end the turmoil that brought down a coalition between the conservative Law and Justice Party and a volatile mix of leftist and far-right partners. Campaigning has entered the crucial final stage, with one of the highlights a TV debate between Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and former president Aleksander Kwasniewski.

Aleksander Kwasniewski and Jaroslaw Kaczynski,  photo: CTK
For most observers of Poland's political scene, it came as a big surprise that the first TV debate in this campaign was a confrontation between the leader of the conservative Law and Justice and the key figure in the LiD coalition of ex-communists and former left-leaning Solidarity activists. In other words: between acting prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Kwasniewski, a man who served as president for ten years, before he was succeeded by the prime minister's twin brother.

What is surprising is that Kwasniewski's LiD is in third place in the polls, far behind Law and Justice and the opposition Civic Platform. So why was the Platform's leader Donald Tusk left out? Slawomir Sierakowski of the leftist 'Krytyka Polityczna' journal thinks that this was a clever political trick on the part of both Kaczynski and Kwasniewski:

"It was a good move for Kaczynski because Kaczynski is interested in having two smaller enemies rather than one big one and one small. It was a kind of alliance between Kaczynski and Kwasniewski against Donald Tusk and I think both of them are happy. The Civic Platform could be marginalized, probably not totally but like 5 or 10 percent may be."

The hour-long debate between Kaczynski and Kwasniewski covered economic issues, Poland's foreign policy and social problems. It wasn't particularly exciting but having attracted an audience of over eight million it certainly served its purpose. In an instant polling, the former president won the favour of 53 percent of viewers, six percentage points more than the prime minister. To use a sporting terminology, the debate ended in a draw.

"In my opinion Kaczynski was the winner. He's better in the debate. 'I think Kwasniewski was the winner but actually the debate should have been between Tusk and Kaczynski. We can't say who won the debate'. 'I think Jaroslaw Kaczynski is the most charismatic leader although I don't support his political views and his party."

Polish analysts agree that the debate showed that the ex-president is back on the political stage. It also demonstrated a different, more friendly face of the prime minister. Marcin Sobczyk of Interfax Central Europe Warsaw Bureau:

"Jaroslaw Kaczynski was very open, often joking about various things, a much different, nicer face of Jaroslaw Kaczynski than what we were sometimes used to see"

One of the key questions posed after the debate is whether it has changed much the situation on the campaign front.

"It definitely changed some opinions in certain groups of voters and may influence elections as a whole by boosting the post communists and also, paradoxically, boosting the ruling conservatives. In fact there were two winners - both interlocutors and the loser was the third natural partner there - the leader of the top opposition party Civic Platform Donald Tusk who was not invited."

In a poll conducted after the TV debate, the conservatives can count on 35 percent of the vote, five percentage points more than the Civic Platform. There's still 12 days of campaigning to go, including party election broadcast on radio and TV.