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Polish populists’ hate figure Tusk hopes for comeback

Former European Council president Donald Tusk, who is hoping to put an end to populist rule in Sunday’s elections in Poland, has become a hate figure for government supporters who portray him as “evil”.

Verbal attacks on the 66-year-old, who was also prime minister between 2007 and 2014, have been a feature of the campaign by the Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Even after eight years in power, key figures in the party like Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki blame Tusk for a long list of economic and social problems.

PiS warns his return would be catastrophic for Poland and accuses him of being a “coward” and a “traitor” and even an “ally” of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In one recent speech, Morawiecki said he was the “political husband of (former German chancellor) Angela Merkel” while Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of PiS, said Tusk was “loyal but towards Germany, not Poland”.

His name is constantly in the headlines on TVP state television, which has become a government mouthpiece, and PiS electoral ads urge voters to “stop Tusk”.

“PiS has adopted a defensive strategy aimed primarily at an older electorate,” said Wojciech Przybylski, a political analyst from the Visegrad Insight think tank.

Polls indicate the ruling party will come first in the election but may struggle to form a governing coalition, which could hand Tusk his chance to build an alliance with smaller parties if they get enough votes.

Przybylski said PiS is trying to convince loyalists that they are “fighting against the devil”.

“This strategy has become an obsession, particularly seeing the frequency with which Tusk’s name is mentioned,” said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw.

“The populists always need an enemy and, for PiS, Tusk has become the embodiment of this enemy,” she said.

By constantly repeating Tusk’s name in a negative context, PiS is also hoping to put off more moderate voters who might be tempted to vote for him and are expected to play a crucial role in the election outcome.

“PiS is not proposing anything new but is aiming to spread fear by evoking the past,” Materska-Sosnowska said.

Blaming everything as “Tusk’s fault” has even become a catchphrase repeated ironically among Poles whenever they complain about something going wrong.

The attacks on Tusk have focused in particular on the migrant issue, with Morawiecki accusing him of being favourable to an EU migrant relocation scheme.

Morawiecki called Tusk “a dangerous man” who could provoke chaos in Europe by allowing in migrants.

The anti-Tusk strategy has some basis in the polls.

According to a recent opinion poll by the Ibris Institute, more than 50 percent of Poles said they do not trust Tusk, while only 36.1 percent said they do.

The proportion of opponents is shrinking, however, and Tusk has fought an energetic campaign, speaking directly to voters at rally after rally across Poland.

“PiS is gambling to the end on a polarisation of society, while the opposition, which also did that at the beginning, is now calling for understanding and, unlike PiS, has a programme centred on the future,” Materska-Sosnowska said.

“This polarisation strategy is having only partial effects. PiS is certainly ahead in the opinion polls but it is quite probable that this will not be enough to form a government,” she said.-

Bernard Osser, "Polish populists’ hate figure Tusk hopes for comeback," Business recorder. 2023-10-15.
Keywords: Political sciences , Political husband , Energetic campaign , Political scientist , Election , Wojciech Przybylski , Europe , Poland , TVP

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