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Poland: Will Donald Tusk miss out on forming a government?

President Duda (l) will swear in parlaimentarians before Prime Minister Morawiecki (r) formally resigns Monday

President Duda (l) will swear in parlaimentarians before Prime Minister Morawiecki (r) formally resigns Monday

Poland's President Andrzej Duda loves the limelight. On Monday, he visibly enjoyed his role once again when, in a televised address, he unexpectedly revealed the name of the politician who, on his behalf, was to try and form the new government. Originally, that decision had been expected to be taken in the course of the following week, when the new parliament will convene for the first time.

"Following a calm analysis and consultations I have decided to task Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki with the mission of forming a government," Duda said, before justifying his decision: "I decided to continue the good parliamentary tradition according to which the winning party is the first to be given the opportunity to form a government." 55-year-old former banker Morawiecki has been leader of the PiS (Law and Justice) government since 2017.

Morawiecki thanked Duda for his confidence. "I invite all lawmakers for whom Poland is the most important to cooperate," Poland's Prime Minister subsequently wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

Math problems despite clear election result

The editor-in-chief of conservative daily Rzeczpospolita, Boguslav Chrabota, wrote in an editorial on Tuesday: "Duda has sent Morawiecki on a suicide mission." Former prime minister Marek Belka, a Social Democrat, commented: "Grade F in Math. Even Grade Nil, with an exclamation mark, in responsibility. Are you not ashamed of yourself, Mr President?" And Grzegorz Schetyna, a confidant of opposition leader Donald Tusk, said: "The president is treating us to more weeks of chaos and bad political cabaret."

In principle, Poland's parliamentary election on October 15 had yielded a clear result: The democratic opposition led by liberal-conservative Donald Tusk, made up of three party groups — the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), the center-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga), The New Left (Lewica) — together won 248 seats in the new parliament. The threshold for an absolute majority is 231 votes.

Tusk: Government before Christmas Eve

The national-conservative PiS Party, which has been the ruling party for eight years, indeed received the largest share of the vote (35.4%). It won, however, only 194 mandates and cannot continue governing without a coalition partner.

Politicians of the victorious alliance have been repeating for weeks that "every child knows that the figure 248 is higher than 194." After an election, the president has no compulsory obligation to give the strongest faction the first chance to form a government, according to the Polish constitution.

In his response to Duda's decision, Tusk remained remarkably calm.

"They want to steal another couple of days, maybe two or three weeks. It's a shame. This [the transition of power; ed.] will take longer," he said. He didn't understand, he added, why Duda was subjecting Morawiecki and other PiS politicians to such "sad humiliation." In a worst-case scenario, Tusk said that Poland would have a new government by Christmas Eve. The coalition agreement, he said, had been "finalized" and was to be signed prior to the parliamentary session next Monday.

PiS sees its only chance of continuing its rule by dividing the democratic opposition which is why the national-conservative party is courting the PSL agrarian party which, together with Polska 2050, made up the Third Way coalition during the election campaign.

Regarding the issue of abortion, this party is even more conservative than its partners. In his efforts to court PSL, Morawiecki confirmed in an interview that he would be willing to serve as cabinet minister in a government headed by PSL leader Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz. The agrarian party, however, rebuffed PiS. Its governing council recently confirmed that it would enter a coalition with KO and Lewica.

The myth of a stolen victory

So what's behind the president's delaying tactics?

"Duda shows solidarity with his party colleagues, who still need time to erase data in their computers, burn documents and set up traps for the new government," wrote Chrabota in Rzeczpospolita.

In fact, decisions are still being made in ministries on the distribution of funds. And in the PiS-controlled state media, which served as the party's mouthpiece in recent years, employees are receiving new contracts as a means to hamper their dismissal.

According to some observers, however, there's even more at stake. The moribund attempt at forming a new PiS government served the purpose of "building the myth of a stolen victory," Agnieszka Dlugosz wrote in the weekly news magazine Newsweek Polska. The myth, she continued, was to help PiS and its leader, Jaroslav Kaczynski, retake power. In an interview with the liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza, sociologist Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer said: "Duda has put his personal career above the interests of the country. He has toed the party line."

Kaczynski worried about party cohesion

However, time is running out for the incumbent government. If Morawiecki fails, the parliamentary majority will propose Tusk as candidate for prime minister at the beginning of December at the latest. In his televised address, Duda confirmed that in that case he would appoint the candidate "immediately."

But what about the big election loser, Jaroslav Kaczynski? He disappeared from the scene immediately after the election. The party leader was even absent from the meeting of newly elected PiS lawmakers at the party headquarters in Warsaw on Monday.

Facing criticism of the party's leadership due to the lost election, Tusk's man rival is apparently working in the background on his party's cohesion ahead of the next crucial test for PiS, the local elections next April. Although even some of his party comrades would prefer to see his withdrawal from politics, the 74-year-old is — for the time being — here to stay.

This article was translated from German.