„Advertising politics”, Warsaw Business Journal



Eryk Mistewicz, an independent political consultant and marketing theorist, talks to WBJ.pl about how presidential candidates across the political spectrum are advertising themselves in the runup to this weekend’s presidential election 

Ewa Boniecka: What, in your opinion, is most surprising thing about this year’s presidential campaign? 

Eryk Mistewicz: It is a campaign conducted in the kind of extreme conditions which have not been seen anywhere else in the world. 

Representatives of all Polish political parties were killed in the April 10 catastrophe. Not only President Lech Kaczyński and the first lady were killed, but 94 other politicians and public personalities, including the Democratic Left Alliance’s presidential candidate, Jerzy Szmajdziński, and independent candidate Maciej Płażyński. 

A huge part of Poland’s elite perished in this catastrophe – the chairman of the National Bank of Poland, the ombudsman for Civil Rights as well as all the commanders of the Polish Army. 

That tragedy had an enormous impact on the Polish electorate’s conscience. There are no books which can show you how to conduct a campaign under such conditions. And it is not possible to compare the present campaign to any others. 

Yet the campaign goes on, so how would you describe its essence and style? 

In my opinion, moves such as organizing honorary committees to support candidates or involving their families in public appearances have no meaning in this campaign. In every campaign it is important that the candidate shows up at the sporting events and smiles in the company of well-known artists, but this sort of thing does not have any meaning in this campaign. 

This is a [more] symbolic campaign, in which different things are important. It is a battle about mighty symbols and national myths, in which one side wants to strengthen them and the other one wants to level them out. 

For that reason it was important for the PiS camp to bury Lech Kaczyński and his spouse in the Wawel, the crypt of kings and great leaders of Poland throughout its history. 

Do you think that after the Smolensk catastrophe many people have changed their minds about the former president? 

I am certain that Poles now maintain a distance from the mainstream media, to which they also include institutions conducting opinion polls. 

Over 50 percent of people now refuse to answer who they will vote for in the coming election. But let’s also remember that the average Pole – like the French, Italians or Americans – is not too demanding of the media. The media has to primarily entertain, not provide knowledge or information. In such an entertainment-centered world it is very easy for large media groups to manipulate the political conscience. 

I wrote about that in my recently published book, „The Anatomy of Power,” where I also ask the question as to why President Lech Kaczyński was presented as extremely clumsy and embarrassing for Poland before the catastrophe, and only following the tragedy did the Polish media abandon that opinion. 

I am not certain that the media will regain credibility because of this. 

Are the occasional gaffes committed by Bronisław Komorowski forgivable because of the image of the natural and jovial politician he has built for himself? 

In any other campaign the significance of the gaffes committed by the candidates would have been much bigger, but not in this campaign. 

The flood which hit Poland after the Smolensk catastrophe could have been exploited by Bronisław Komorowski, as PO’s presidential candidate, to narrate his story about an efficient state and the professionalism of the government’s rescue services. 

Unfortunately, Komorowski was not able to generate such a narrative, saying at the spur of the moment that „water is naturally flowing from heaven, but later flows via rivers to the sea.” 

In the average campaign, such words would have lowered his ratings, yet here they were swept aside by the main stream of the campaign. Because that main stream carries the question of responsibility for the Smolensk tragedy in all its aspects; it also involves an assessment of the late president’s legacy. 

Which of the candidates is doing the best job at building a strong public image for himself and his party? 

Jarosław Kaczyński from PiS and Bronisław Komorowski from PO are two speeding locomotive engines directed against each other and absorbing the interest of all voters. In the deep symbolism of this election, there is no place for other candidates. 

Yet the campaigns of Grzegorz Napieralski from the left and Marek Jurek from the extreme right are even more interesting. These politicians are not running to win, but to place their parties in good positions and prepare them for upcoming local and parliamentary elections. Their efforts are visible. 

Other candidates, including the pro-business liberal Andrzej Olechowski, don’t seem to be present in the campaign. And without effort from the candidate, it is difficult to expect a good result. 

Is the new, softer image of Jarosław Kaczyński only a PR gimmick, or does it reflect a deeper change? 

Neither Bronisław Komorowski nor Jarosław Kaczyński could present themselves as they would in an ordinary election campaign. 

So the images of calm and restraint projected by each and by their election headquarters are quite natural. He who throws the first stone will draw upon himself an avalanche of dislike from voters. 

Do you think that a debate between Bronisław Komorowski and Jarosław Kaczyński would have a major influence on the campaign? 

I have to point out that presidential debates in every country are now nothing but theater. Millions sit in front of their TV screens, not to hear concrete information related to the electoral programs but to have a good show. 

Regardless, if we are talking about the debates between José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Mariano Rajoy in Spain or Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségolene Royal in France, the average viewer, who is not an expert, only pays attention to gaffes, lack of emotional control or gestures meant to shake the opponent’s composure. 

We have known for at least 20 years what stances the candidates have on the most important issues – Komorowski and Kaczyński have spoken about these hundreds of times before. And their opinions on current matters, such as, for instance, the crisis in Greece, have been expressed separately in press interviews. 

So the fact is that running debates between the candidates is only in the interest of television stations. 

How do you see the political landscape after the election? 

Both Bronisław Komorowski and Jarosław Kaczyński want to be strong presidents, with the strongest possible domain of power. This means the end of [Prime Minister] Donald Tusk’s plan to change the political system in Poland into a chancellery system. 

Poland will not change the present system because neither Komorowski nor Kaczyński would accept it. 

From Warsaw Business Journal by Ewa Boniecka