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POLAND: Warsaw Presidential Debate

The first round of the local elections in Poland will take place on October 21st, with the second round on November 4th. On Friday, 14 candidates for the Office of President of Warsaw took part in a debate televised by three broadcasters (TVN, Polsat and the state TVP). Six questions were asked by the anchors, candidates were allowed a 45 second answer each and one open statement for half a minute. The number of participants and time constraints meant that there were no significant rhetorical clashes; candidates mainly used their allotted time to reiterate their campaign promises.

The debate largely focused on the two main candidates Rafał Trzaskowski (PO) and Patryk Jaki (PiS). Specific questions focused on: the evaluation of Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s (PO) term; the right to protest in the capital; and anti-smog policies. Candidates had little time to answer, but for many this was the first time to appear on prime-time news. Currently, 10 of the candidates have less than 3% in the polls, but their voters will become key in the second round of voting.

Most notably, during the debate Patryk Jaki announced that he is resigning from his membership in Solidary Poland (SP) – the coalition partner of PiS within the United Right. Jaki urged Rafał Trzaskowski to do the same, calling it a candidate’s “true test of political credibility”. Experts argue that through his effective campaign, Jaki gained the recognition of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński and he is bidding to position himself as one of the main faces of PiS for the parliamentary elections. Furthermore, Jaki’s withdrawal from SP weakens the faction’s leader, Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro. This is important in the context of frictions within the government between PM Morawiecki and Ziobro.

The first post-debate poll conducted by IBRiS gives Trzaskowski 42.1% and 31.9% for Jaki in the first round of voting. While Trzaskowski’s victory in the second round is still seen as the most likely scenario, in political circles it is widely being said that Jaki has implemented a more effective campaign. The race is Warsaw, which has been a PO stronghold for many years, and its results are going to be defining for the entire election season. If Trzaskowski wins only by a small margin, the signal will be clear for both the ruling party and the opposition: PiS is en route to win the 2019 parliamentary elections if the Civic Coalition does not change its strategy.