Leading Polish Women Debate With Election Majority at Stake

  • Law & Justice set to win parliamentary ballot on Sunday
  • Prime minister warns opposition spending plans may bust budget

Poland’s Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz faced off against Beata Szydlo, the main opposition party’s candidate for the post, in a televised debate on Monday that could determine the probable scale of Law & Justice’s victory in Sunday’s general election.

While Kopacz accused Law & Justice of threatening to destabilize public finances with its 50 billion zloty ($13.3 billion) per year spending promises, Szydlo responded that her policies would help the entire society, not only benefit the “select few.” The opposition candidate said she had a clear plan of legislative proposals for her first 100 days in office and appealed to voters to give her future government a “stable majority.”

Law & Justice, which advocates a bigger state role in the economy and a tougher stance against refugees, is set to win the election, although opinion surveys are mixed on whether the group will become the country’s first since 1989 to win an more than half of the seats in parliament. Behind in surveys, Kopacz needed the win the debate to revive the Civic Platform’s support just six days before the ballot.

“Kopacz was under pressure to change the dynamics of the election, which didn’t happen” during the debate, said Rafal Chwedoruk, a political scientist at Warsaw University. “Keeping the status quo benefits Szydlo.”

Miner’s Daughter

A coal miner’s daughter from Poland’s industrial south, Szydlo, 52, was nominated as her party’s candidate for prime minister after she led President Andrzej Duda’s campaign to a surprise victory in presidential elections five months ago.

However, her performance on the campaign trail has failed to dispel doubts that her candidacy is an attempt to win over moderate voters while the top job will eventually go Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Law & Justice’s founder and party leader, as well as one of Poland’s least trusted politicians. Szydlo sidestepped questioned about Kaczynski’s role, saying she “didn’t want to discuss party issues which weren’t important” for Poles that have a hard time making ends meet.

“I care more about what the people are telling me and they say they want to live in dignity,” Szydlo said during the 70-minute debate.

Law & Justice wants to boost spending on family benefits, cut the retirement age and lower taxes for smaller local companies to help them compete with large foreign companies. It will pay for those promises with additional revenue from special levies on banks and large supermarkets as well as better tax collection, according to its plans.

Instability, Infighting

The party’s previous stint in power in 2005-2007 was marred by instability and infighting with the party’s two coalition partners, hurting Kaczynski’s popularity. It ended with Kaczynski calling early elections, which he subsequently lost, ushering in eight years of Civic Platform rule.

Support for the main opposition party increased 2 percentage points to 36 percent while the Civic Platform was unchanged at 22 percent, according to an IBRiS survey of 2,200 adult Poles published by Rzeczpospolita newspaper on Monday.

“Political support ratings are very volatile, so this debate could be enough to swing the pendulum,” said Ewa Nalewajko, a political scientist from the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. “Yet it won’t be enough to snatch victory away from Law & Justice.”

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