„New political power”
Warsaw Business Journal

no.38, vol. 19, September 30 – October 6, 2013

wbjEryk Mistewicz, a political consultant, sits down with WBJ to talk about new trends in politics, the growing influence of social media and the profiles of major Polish parties as well as the outlook for the new entities currently emerging on the political scene.

Ewa Boniecka: The Polish political scene is currently undergoing a phase of dynamic change. Do you think this stems from real shifts in Poland’s political setup or is it just a new form of political marketing?

Eryk Mistewicz: There are a few processes going on simultaneously. Politicians often act like sprinters. They focus on the short distance, which means securing their positions in the parties and on future electoral lists while remaining oblivious to everything else.

They run short distances and fail to consider long-term political goals and social problems. We can already see them campaigning for the European Parliament and for the 2015 parliamentary elections, even though these elections are still so far off.

Another thing is that we are entering the “post-political era.” In traditional politics there is a specific period of time during which parties and candidates run their electoral campaigns. Elections end with one party’s victory. That party then implements its political program and fulfills – or not – its campaign promises. In any case, the political battle is over once the votes are counted.

Now we are witnessing never-ending campaigns with parties trying to hold on to their voters’ support at all times. This leads to a permanent battle between parties, aggressive campaigns and to accusations which overshadow important policies.

Finally, there is a growing power outside the established system of influence. In the past media and opinion leaders were a force to be reckoned with. Now the internet is becoming very influential. People express their views online and help shape public opinion. This change is happening all over the world including Poland.

I worked on Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaigns in 2007 and in 2012 and I witnessed that change. In 2007, journalists and experts were the ones who evaluated presidential debates. In the 2012 campaign, hundreds of opinions were published online while the debate was still ongoing. People were, in real time, evaluating who was winning the debate and thus creating opinions among the French.

In Poland the traditional, mainstream media, which was so influential in the previous parliamentary campaigns, no longer have a monopoly on shaping public sentiment because the influence of various social media is increasing.

In what ideological direction is that new power leaning towards in Poland?

Views expressed on the internet are varied. I can point out the two main schools of online political thought right now. First, there is a group calling for the fair distribution of goods “because we all have the same needs,” as they say. People expressing these views are leftist and populist in ideology.

The other major trend is linked to the issue of the [2010] Smolensk plane crash where Polish president Lech Kaczyński died. There is a group of people who believe he was assassinated. They are fundamentally right-wing and nationalist.

So while a few years ago traditional media promoted more centrist views, social media promotes more radical views and this is affecting public sentiment.

From the point of view of political marketing I would say that the [ruling] Civic Platform (PO) is no longer viewed as “sexy” by social media users. Young former supporters of PO are bored with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. PO, which used to be good at PR, now has a problem creating a positive image and communicating with voters. This is something that PO and Donald Tusk should take into serious consideration, which in my opinion they are not doing right now.

Do you think that Donald Tusk and PO should look for a more distinct political and ideological identity in order to regain public support?

These days there is no room for grand ideological visions. The major parties in democratic countries combine various political, economic and social views in their programs.

I do not think that the prime minister should search for any ideological identity. Donald Tusk consciously avoids presenting ideologial views. He has built his party and the government on solid and pragmatic center-right foundations, which has proven quite effective.

PO presents a vision of the state which steers clear of ideological matters and does not interfere in spheres where it is not necessary.

In my view PO won’t strengthen its identity by weakening its liberal or conservative factions, but by looking for a balance between them and staying in their mid- dle-of-the-road position. This gives Poles another option apart from the two opposing ideological camps – the far-right and the populist left.

Still, support for PO keeps dropping. The party is losing its middle-class and young electorate. What can it do to recover?

In my view the future of PO is solely in the hands of Donald Tusk. People no longer vote for ideological programs, they vote for particular leaders. It was Mr Tusk who personally won his party a second term in power.

Today the government is showing symptoms of wear and tear, which is quite natural during a second term but has to be overcome. I think that Donald Tusk has not lost his political strength and instinct. He is capable of identifying political threats and weakness and finding solutions for them.

I am certain that he will soon conduct a thorough cabinet reshuflle. Poles are not interested in the internal problems of PO and its ideology but they are concerned with how effective it is as a ruling party. Therefore, the reshuffle cannot be just about personnel changes, there also has to be improvement in how effective PO is in governing the country.

If ideology is no longer important, as you say, why then is the main opposition party Law and Justice (PiS), which is very ideological, gaining support and surpassing PO in the polls?

PiS is gaining support for many reasons, mainly because of PO’s current weakness.

I divide parties into two categories. There are parties, like PiS on the right and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) on the left, which hold onto some kind of ideology and distance themselves from those who do not share this ideology.

There are also modern parties, open to people with various beliefs, with different views on some matters, but willing to work together. PO, with all its troubles and faults, is an example of a modern, 21st century party.

A few weeks ago former Justice Minister Jarosław Gowin, who was the leader of a conservative faction within PO, quit the party. Can PO recover from this blow and does Mr Gowin stand a chance if he were to form his own party?

The departure of Jarosław Gowin did not weaken PO. The ruling party has some other prominent politicians with conservative views such as current Justice Minister Marek Biernacki. The balance between conservative and liberal factions within the party will be maintained, but they will need to cooperate.

Jarosław Gowin’s image as a traditional conservative politician from Kraków can serve him well. But his political chances depend on the strategy and people he chooses to work with.

If he allows himself to be associated with politicians who have already used up their political capital, his new party will not attract support from voters. I believe he has a shot if he decides to cooperate with politicians, who have so far distanced themselves from PO and from PiS, perhaps mayors of some major cities with bigger political ambitions.

How do you see the chances of the new leftist entity, Europe Plus, which is about to join forces with the socially liberal Palikot’s Movement? Mr Palikot has told WBJ he is trying to revamp his political image by changing his party’s name…

If Janusz Palikot changes his party’s name, it would be a big mistake. As I pointed out, people don’t vote for political programs, they vote for politicians with recognizable names. Mr Palikot still has support among many young voters.

Palikot’s Movement and Europe Plus are parties which were established after a significant amount of market research. They are center-left, but without a defined ideology.

Europe Plus and Palikot’s Movement could together become PO’s junior coalition partner provided it wins enough seats in the next parliamentary elections. It would be a good match for PO, as both these parties support modernization and deeper integration within the European Union. Such a step would be far less politically risky for PO than forming a coalition with the ideological SLD. ●