Girl from political dynasty courts Polish opposition

During a campaign stop in a sparse village school hall – decorated with sagging balloons and images of caterpillars – Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, one of the Polish opposition leaders, drew an audience composed mostly of the local association of rural women and a slightly worse rowdy for usury.

“I am here to mobilize you,” declared the candidate prime minister of the Civic Coalition at the rally in Przychody, in the poorest east of Poland. “First, to make sure you know the platform of our party and our coalition. . . and [second, to show] that the vote of every Pole is worth the same. . . You will decide what Poland will look like.

But while most of Ms. Kidawa-Blonska’s onlookers listen to her politely as she discusses local issues, she is quickly challenged over her party’s case. “You just came here now because you need support,” cuts the rowdy. “Where were you 10 years ago? “

The national image is, if anything, less friendly. Two weeks before a general election in Poland, polls indicate that the Civic Coalition – an alliance built around the center-right civic platform that ruled Poland from 2007 to 2015 – is more than 15 points.

Ms. Kidawa-Blonska, a seasoned MP and former government spokesperson, is supposed to change that. Last month, Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna, seen as a fierce fighter but lacking in charisma, stepped down as prime minister in a last-ditch attempt to revive the coalition’s fortunes. Opposition leaders hope more Poles will be wooed by Ms Kidawa-Blonska’s warmer ways and political ancestry: one of her great-grandfathers was president in the 1920s, and another was Prime Minister.

“She is.. A woman with great charisma, great charm, and she has these very unique roots,” said a politician from the Civic Coalition. “Her great-grandparents were very important politicians, one of whom was conservative … so she can also speak to a slightly conservative electorate outside of Warsaw, and we don’t have many who can.

To underscore the non-confrontational approach of the soft-spoken Ms Kidawa-Blonska – a rarity in Poland’s feverish politics – the campaign bus of the 62-year-old former parliamentary speaker is adorned with a photo of her hugging her another woman, and the slogan: “Co-operation, not quarrels.

“We believe in his honesty. She’s been in politics for so many years and I haven’t seen any missteps on her part, ”said Malgorzata, a retiree who was among about 20 supporters who happened to see Ms. Kidawa-Blonska at the event. a later stop in Wlodawa, a small town on the border of Poland with Belarus. “She’s very believable and straightforward, like a normal person who goes about her everyday life.”

But Ms Kidawa-Blonska faces an uphill struggle. Law and Justice has come under fire from critics in Brussels for eroding the rule of law and has been hit by a series of scandals. Yet the party still enjoys wide support thanks to a booming economy and generous welfare programs that have improved the lot of many Poles. Meanwhile, the state-controlled media tirelessly praise the government and trash the opposition.

Above all, Civic Coalition is also still dogged by criticism that it did not do enough for less well-off Poles, especially in eastern Poland, during former Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s two terms.

“I travel all over Poland and I know what people are thinking. . . Law and justice? OKAY. Nationalists ? OKAY. [Civic Coalition]? No one wants to support them. Look at their support! Five people came, ”said Antoni Peruta, a retired businessman, as Ms. Kidawa-Blonska spoke to voters in Wlodawa market square.

“The government that is in power now does what it says. However, when this group was in power, they did not keep any promises. “

Joanna Sawicka, analyst at Polityka Insight, says Civic Coalition has struggled to communicate its policies to voters. “The Coalition’s program is very thin, they don’t say what kind of state they would like to create. There is no diagnosis, ”she said.

Others believe the problem runs deeper and stems from a fundamental indecision over whether to try to beat the law and justice by winning over moderate conservative voters, or rather trying to consolidate Poland’s liberal forces. .

“They don’t really know who they are,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, director of the Institute of Public Affairs, a think tank. “When the Civic Platform was in power, [it was] a bit of a catch-all party. He had a center-right lean, but it was kind of something for everyone. . And now they are grappling with it as an opposition party. They cannot redefine themselves.