The third week of election campaign in Poland (23-29 August 2023)

by | Aug 29, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Written by Filip Bialy

Several surprises on the parties’ lists and the first ever use of generative AI in political advertising in Poland during the third week of election campaign. Political leaders, all of them on the move, clash over unemployment rates, privatisation, and migration.

For the first time since the beginning of the campaign, the domination of Law and Justice seemed to be limited. A prolonged spectacle of revealing leading candidates has continued with one controversy bringing together two former allies, now fierce opponents.

Roman Giertych, who first gained popularity 20 years ago as a leader of the Polish Families League, a party radically opposed to Polish accession to the European Union, has been an active critic of Law and Justice for the past decade. That is even though the League was in the government with Law and Justice and Giertych himself served as deputy prime minister along Jarosław Kaczyński. As a lawyer – Giertych is a practicing attorney – he represented Civic Coalition leaders and their families (including Donald Tusk’s son) in various court cases. As a retired politician, he has been utilising Twitter to criticise the current government, frequently appearing in the news headlines.

A member of Sejm (the lower chamber) before, in this campaign Giertych was considered to run as a candidate to the Senate. But other parties that form the “Senate Pact” opposed because of Giertych’s nationalistic past, and his controversial tenure as a minister of education who removed from school reading lists not sufficiently patriotic books. It seemed his ambitions to go back to the parliament ended there. And then an unexpected move of Law and Justice helped him.

Jarosław Kaczyński, born and raised in Warsaw, was expected to lead the Law and Justice list in the capital. Surprisingly, the party announced that he will be a candidate in another region in order – the official party line goes – to increase support for the whole list there. The practice of parachuting popular politicians into voting districts with which they have not much in common is well-established in Poland. But in this case the announcement is considered as a pre-emptive move to avoid Kaczyński’s defeat with Donald Tusk, who is going to lead the Warsaw list of Civic Coalition. While Kaczyński would almost certainly still get enough votes to get into parliament, there are more liberal than conservative voters in Warsaw and Tusk is supposed to receive much higher number of votes than any of his right-wing opponents. Responding to accusations of being a coward, Kaczyński called Tusk a liar, but is struggling to change the narrative.

Tusk, on the other hand, used the opportunity to have a cake and eat it too: he announced that Roman Giertych will run from the last place of Civic Coalition’s list to Sejm in the same district as Kaczyński. Giertych welcomed the announcement by posting a picture from his debate with Kaczyński, 18 years ago.

And Law and Justice has been already defeated – in court. After Law and Justice released a video accusing Donald Tusk of leading Poland into 15% unemployment, Civic Coalition used the special “election mode” to bring the case to court, questioning the claim. The court confirmed that while Tusk was a prime minister, the unemployment rate never reached 15%. The opposition pointed out that it was that high during the tenure of Jarosław Kaczyński.

Online activities

The two main parties flooded YouTube and other social media with shorter and longer video spots. Both parties rely mostly on negative messages. Law and Justice spots echo referendum questions, reminding voters of Civic Coalition’s decisions to increase the retirement age and sale one of the biggest national banks. Civic Coalition made headlines by using AI-generated voices of Law and Justice politicians – including prime minister Morawiecki – to read revealing passages of private emails leaked on the Internet by (presumably) Russian hackers. Aside from a rather troubling fact that the main opposition party uses emails leaked with the intention to meddle in Polish politics, the use of voice deepfake was criticised by the media.

On Facebook, according to Who Targets Me estimations, political advertisers spent more than PLN 700,000 (£135,000). Among political parties, the official pages of Law and Justice and Mateusz Morawiecki have been leading in spending over Civic Coalitions profiles. On X/Twitter the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin has been one of the main political topics. The long predicted and yet unexpectedly violent fate of Wagner Group leader was met with a relief by most of Polish commentators.

In the polls

Law and Justice maintain its lead in most polls with 33 to 37% support. Civic Coalition is second with 21 to 30%. Three minor parties receive between 6 and 12%, and their order is changing from poll to poll. In some scenarios, Law and Justice would be able to govern on its own. In other predictions, the help from Confederacy would be required.