Saturday, October 13, 2007

Election debates and other spectator sports

With 12 days to go it is looking increasingly likely that the ruling Law and Justice will win the general election in Poland. But can the opposition put the skids under PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the televised debates remaining? (the photo above is actually Lech Kaczynski and not Jarosalw, but what the hell...same difference...)

Eight million people watched the first TV debate last Monday – which in these days of multi channel TV and internet, is a televisual blockbuster.

Kaczynski will now likely debate leader of the Civic Platform on Friday evening and there will probably be a three way debate on Monday between Kaczynski, Tusk and the ‘face’ of the Left and Democrats campaign, former president Aleksander Kwasniewski.

That the Left and Democrats have to put Kwasniewski into the ring for them – someone who is not even standing for parliament – is a rather pathetic sign of what a race of pygmies they have become.

Fact is, he is still their biggest personality, and TV debates are all about personalities.

In Britain, where I am from, prime ministers don’t do debates – why run the risk of making yourself look an idiot? (Risk is not on the menu for UK politicians – look at the mess Gordon Iron Jaw Brown has got himself into: people are shocked by his lack of guts, ignoring the fact that Brown has a long history of bottling it.).

Usually, prime ministers can only lose debates, opposition politicians might just win one. In last Monday’s debate both candidates managed not to lose any support. The more Kwasniewski taunted Kaczynski that he was making his country a laughing stock abroad (and there is no doubt he has) the more Kaczynski’s supporters cheered him on – they want his confrontational stance in the European Union and elsewhere.

On Friday it is Kaczynski versus Tusk. Tusk, being from Civic Platform, will do what the Democrats do in the US – they will try and appeal to reason and give lots of little policy initiatives that they think their supporters want.

Kaczynski will continue to act like a US Republican: give them one big message – ‘Poland is ruled by corrupt liberals and ex-communists’.

Kaczynski seems to understand campaigning much better than Tusk, who is getting the reputation as being a bit of a wuss - a wish-washy dullard, who lacks the balls for a fight (a Polish version of the UK’s hapless leader, perhaps).

The coming TV debates are likely to emphasize these differences. Kaczynski is giving his supporters - those in rural areas, the old, the poor, the ones who lost out in the transition to capitalism - what they want. Tusk is frustrating his. We have had two years of the weirdest government I have ever seen. If Tusk and Kwasniewski haven’t been able to nail Law and Justice by now then they will not be able to do it - no matter how many TV debates they have - in the remaining couple of weeks.

Get ready for a Kaczynski win. The only thing really in doubt now is whether he will get a big enough majority to rule alone.