Meanwhile in Cuckooland 87

Now or never” – says the cover of the pro-PiS magazine “Sieci” featuring Patryk Jaki. Apparently will be never, as it is definitely not now, as Jaki lost in Warsaw (according to forecasts and exit polls, Rafał Trzaskowski of PO became mayor of Warsaw in the first round). But to be frank, the misfortune of having to send the issue to the print before first results became available caused a problem also to the other side: Polish edition of Newsweek, run by openly pro-PO Tomasz Lis, also did not expect their candidate to perform so well, and so their cover suggests that there will be a second round.

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But in facts, those mishaps of the magazines are a good allegory of what those local elections mean: PiS hoped for more and failed, but it is not a success for the opposition either – and apparently they know that, as they don’t believe in themselves. Because while PiS can boast about winning the most votes overall and performing better than in previous local election, the facts are a bit grimmer:
– they won the majority in 9 of 16 departments, but in most cases, it will not be enough to gain power, as unlike PiS, the opposition is likely to form a coalition and such coalitions would have the majority in at least 14 of 16 local parliaments.
– despite that PiS results might be slightly better than in 2014, it is well bellow the level of support they had in the parliamentary elections three years ago. If we remember that for three years they were throwing money at their voters and turned public media into the pro-PiS propaganda machine, this result should be at least worrying to them.
– last but not least, in the mayoral elections in major cities, PiS failed to gain anything where they really wanted to. One could risk a claim, that those independent/opposition candidates, who were most attacked by PiS, gained more votes than expected: not only in Warsaw but also in Poznań and in Łódź, where current presidents Jacek Jaśkowiak and Hanna Zdanowska secured re-election in the first round. Also in Wrocław, independent candidate Jacek Sutryk, anointed by the outgoing president, seems to have won in the first round. Meanwhile, Anna Morawiecka, sister of the prime minister that tried to become a mayor of Oborniki Śląskie, has been knocked out by the opposition candidate with the result of approx 70:30%. And all this despite receiving an unprecedented support from the government, who not only promised to build new bridges across Odra river, but also send its ministers to officially show their support to the candidate of that small provincial town…

But one might say, that this is not so big success for the opposition either, as apart from Warsaw’s mayoral election, choosing of mayor is less about big politics, more about electing a good manager for the city. And PiS simply has too short bench to be able to offer anyone being able to compete with seasoned local government officials, who can enjoy widespread support even across the political division: in Wałbrzych, PO’s Roman Szełemej has been reelected as a mayor with an overwhelming majority of well over 80%, but as the results from smaller cities are slowly pouring down, his record might be beaten by Rafał Piech, formerly also of PO, now independent, who had also been reelected as mayor of Siemianowice Śląskie.

Also, the overall results of the opposition are not so great – in general, the coalition of PO and .Nowoczesna, along with some left-wing activists surrounding Barbara Nowacka, had about the same result, as PO itself achieved four years ago. Peasant’s Party PSL, that is struggling for survival in national politics, gathered well over 10% votes, proving yet again, that despite PiS drive to take over their election base, they still have strong structures and supporters in local councils, especially in smaller towns and in the countryside. Still, their result is much worse than previously, although some say that their unusual 23% was a result of that back in 2014 the new election ballots was introduced in a form of a small booklet, and PSL, that has been allocated the list number 1 benefited from confusion of the voters, as their candidates were on the first page. It’s worth to note, that PiS, on the other hand, claims, that this unusually high result of PSL was a proof of that the elections were rigged. They were even trying to raise that matter in Brussels, but European institutions failed to find anything wrong with the election (it’s funny, as now, when the opposition tries to use European institutions to protect Poland from PiS breaking the democratic standards, PiS calls people who go to Brussels “traitors”). But PiS knew better and decided to improve the election system to ensure no such things will happen any more. But this also turned to be a failure on their part.

The new computerised system of registering voters proved to be not up of the task, and only further complicated a beaurocratic nightmare. Many voters as a result of its flaws were unable to cast the vote. In several voting stations, for example in Złotoryja, ballots for different areas have been given out to the voters.

But recent weeks were in general very bad for PiS. Smarzowski’s movie “Kler” is breaking all records and more than one in ten Poles have already been to see it in the cinemas, leaving behind such great hits as Avatar or Titanic. After a great success in the UK (where it has earned more than a million pounds in one weekend only) it will also hit cinemas in Austria, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the USA. Such a big blow to the Church, PiS biggest ally, is the last thing they needed just before elections.

Another big blow came from Brussels when Court of Justice of European Union suspended president’s Duda decision that forced over 65 years old judges of Polish Highest Court to retire before their term in the office expires. This is only preliminary action, but such a bold move to secure the status quo is not the best prognostic for PiS on the CJEU’s verdict regarding PiS’s reforms of the judiciary.

But of course, PiS don’t need anyone to deliver blows to themselves. A Polish ambassador to the UE has been ridiculed in European press after he was spotted with a screwdriver removing a commemorative plaque celebrating opening of the offices of Polish representation to the EU that reminded, that it had been opened in 2011 by the Polish prime minister Tusk and then speaker of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek and other EU leading figures. Apparently exporting PiS drive to change history to Europe has not been a great success…

Also, attempts of damage control of the secret recordings of Mateusz Morawiecki are bringing mixed results. After it had emerged, that while being a chief of the bank Mateusz Morawiecki expressed his contentment, that Robert Kubica, Polish Formula 1 driver, had been injured and thus there will be no need to sponsor him, the prime minister met with Kubica, who is still trying to become Formula 1 driver again and promised him 40 000 000 zł from the state-owned oil company Orlen. This enraged many Poles as it is yet another instalment of Morawiecki’s hypocrisy: he was not willing to give Kubica much smaller sum from his bank sponsoring funds, yet today he is happy to shower him with taxpayer’s money in desperate attempt to save face.

Desperate attempt to scare people with refugees yet another time has been also a total failure. The spot, shot in the form of the newsreel from the future after PO wins the local election and allow refugees to Poland failed on many levels. First: local councils are unable to bring refugees without permission from the government, as PiS proved when it torpedoed city of Sopot’s attempts to bring 10 orphans from Aleppo to Poland. Secondly, the clip is using footage of alleged aggressive Muslim refugees, that have a long time been debunked as fake news – the aggressors are in fact Eastern Europeans. Even Krzysztof Bosak, leader of Polish nationalists, spoke up, calling the spot “so disgusting, cynical, vile and stupid propaganda that it begs belief, that they have really released it”. It’s very rare, that extreme right shares an opinion with the pro-refugee organisations, but he is definitely right, as even a TVP journalist, who up to last year had no problems with being a face of PiS propaganda, protested against using her picture in it. The clip can be seen below:

The other PR stunts aren’t going well for PiS either. Jarosław Kaczyński himself symbolically dug a hole with the shovel on the beach to officially celebrate the beginning of the construction of the canal through Mierzeja Wiślana, allowing access of sea ships to Elbląg without transiting Kaliningrad district. Meanwhile, despite government boisterous announcements, there is still no permission to start any work there due to environmental concerns. So, basically, Jarosław Kaczyński, who is too ill to travel (according to his doctor’s note regarding a recent court hearing where Kaczyński is accused of offending Lech Wałęsa) and who is too ill to fulfil his duties as an MP, goes to the beach in the middle of nowhere (OK, not really “goes”, he was driven there in a column of 4×4’s) and works on the shovel on an illegal construction site. That didn’t go down well, especially that the internet was quick to remind that this is a third time when PiS dignitaries officially opened that construction project – the previous ones being 13th of September 2011 and 14th of October 2015. Someone calculated, that if the work will be carried at this rate – that is a few shovels of the sand every three years, the canal will be ready approximately in the year 67 894, that is in over 65 000 years from now.

Last but not least, the local elections happen to take place just one month into the new school year when results of PiS educational reforms became fully visible. The parents are angry with their kids to have to go to overcrowded schools and face tough competition, as the reforms mean, that pupils born in two consecutive years will have to compete for the limited amount of places in high schools. To make it even worse, even today, 7 months before the entry exams, nobody is able to tell how they will look like. The PiS attempt to blame local governments for the failings weren’t successful, and everyone is angry at the government.

Even one of Beata Szydło’s flagship project, a money give-away to the parents of disabled children, proved to be failure after it had emerged, that shortcomings of the Polish health service make it impossible to diagnose the child within first 12 months of its life while parents, who are unable to provide diagnosis within the first year of their child’s life, are not entitled to a 4000 zł one-off benefit.

So no, while PiS claiming to be victorious in the local election, they definitely cannot call last week a good week to them. Nor can the opposition, as while people’s anger with PiS is brightly visible (over 51% of voters cast their ballot, which is the best result in local elections since 1990), this frustration failed to be turned into the support for the opposition. It is still clear, that many votes cast for the biggest opposition parties were, in fact, anti-PiS votes.

But the biggest loser of those elections is the left. Post-communist party SLD in coalition with some other left-wing organisations gained over 5% of votes, which is a significant loss compared to previous local elections, and the young social-democratic party Razem, despite being very engaged in a grass-roots activity, gained only about 1.4%. Even together, their result was worse than this of SLD in 2014. This might be, in part, due to the strategic voting, as since many voters went to elections to prevent PiS from gaining power, decided to vote for the major parties, that were more likely to gain something. But this might be also a proof how right-wing-leaning Polish politics is, when Razem, being de facto the only Polish party that could be compared to typical European mainstream social democratic parties like, for example, Scottish SNP, has a support similar to that of National Movement, radical right party bordering with neo-fascism…

Picture: Lukasz2 via Wikipedia, Creative Commons 
This text has been published in Britske Listy



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