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If the PM doesn't act fast, it's downhill from here
  Posted on 9 Tue, Oct 2012, with tags:
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Even ardent pro-government journalists have been lambasting the ruling party of late.

Civic Platform (PO) is “sleeping” they say while its main opponent, Law and Justice (PiS), has been very active in recent weeks organizing everything from policy debates to street protests.

At least two recent polls suggest PO's critics are right.

The latest Homo Homini voter survey now has PO and PiS tied at 28 percent while last week's TNS Polska voter survey actually had PiS with 39 percent support, 6 percentage points ahead of PO.

Granted, two polls do not a trend make but they should make the ruling party sit up.

In the mood for blood, sweat and tears?

But the current atmosphere of pending economic crisis and general uncertainty plus PO's recent media inactivity may be shifting the political landscape. PO has won the last six elections largely because Poles prefer the style of its leader, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, to the aggressive, often abrasive stance of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński.

This is why towards the end of last year's parliamentary election campaign, when PO and PiS were virtually tied in the polls, PO launched an ad blitz asking a simple question: “Prime Minister Tusk or Prime Minister Kaczyński?”

On election day, Poles overwhelmingly demonstrated that they prefer to be ruled by Mr Tusk.

But the ruling party and Mr Tusk's personal popularity levels have been systematically slumping in the polls recently and both seem not to know what to do about it. The best chance they have to reverse their fortunes will be when the PM makes a much-awaited policy speech this Friday outlining what his government plans to do to keep the crisis at bay and help Poles through this tough period.

Mr Tusk must, with that speech, turn things around if he wants to keep his party popular. This is definitely not a task beyond his capabilities since the prime minister is an effective speaker and seems to have a soothing effect on Poles when he does speak.

But what can he offer Poles right now apart from blood, sweat and tears?

Poland can't afford a massive economic stimulus or the kind of “quantitative easing” the US and the UK are implementing right now. The room for maneuver is very limited. And the government must cut costs in order to stick to its EU-mandated obligation of reducing the budget deficit to below 3 percent of GDP by 2015.

Are Poles in the mood to hear about austerity measures right now? That remains to be seen and again a lot will depend on how Mr Tusk delivers his speech.

What goes around comes around

A definite problem for the prime minister is that if PO's popularity falls further, he will be in serious trouble with his own party members, even more so than another party leader would be.

Donald Tusk is a man who understands the power of perception in politics.

Over the years, he has painstakingly cultivated the image of a calm, decent and thoughtful politician in his public appearances. He is always controlled when the cameras are on him.

But when the cameras are switched off, the PM can often be very coarse and brutal with his co-workers.

Since taking over as leader of PO, he has systematically weakened or gotten rid of all potential pretenders to the throne, often to the humiliation of those involved.

A few years ago he removed, for no apparent reason, PO's then number-two Grzegorz Schetyna from his post as deputy PM. Mr Schetyna, who learned he was being sacked from a TV journalist during a program, then complained about the incident in an interview, leading Mr Tusk to comment publicly that “boys don't cry.”

That kind of brutality is rarely forgotten and there are many others like Mr Schetyna who are just waiting for Donald Tusk to be weak enough for them to pounce. If they smell blood, the PM is toast.

Coalition partner adding salt to injury

Also, PO has constantly maintained that a vote for PiS is a lost vote because Mr Kaczyński does not have any potential coalition partners as nobody wants to work with him.

Well, on Monday, Mr Tusk's deputy PM and junior coalition party leader Waldemar Pawlak met with the PiS leader for two hours to discuss the “political situation” as it was later described by PiS's spokesperson.

Mr Pawlak is sending two signals here.

Firstly, he is telling Mr Tusk not to take him for granted and, secondly, he is casting into doubt PO's argument about Mr Kaczyński not having any potential political partners. Donald Tusk thus needs to act fast and sharp if he wants to continue running things.

If not, laziness and the crisis could propel his party into a political free fall. However, it should be noted that a lot also depends on PiS, which is notorious for messing up just when things seem to be going its way.

But ultimately, the ball is now in Donald Tusk's court. Does he still have the magic touch?

 

 

 

 

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