Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Polish political TV debates are like game shows

If your idea of a televised debate during an election campaign between the two main protagonists is of the formal, stiff, American variety, then the Polish version will come as a bit of a shock.

The Tusk-Kaczynski TV debate game show tonight – that the media billed as the key moment in the election campaign, when government could be won or lost – was a bizarre sight. The set looked like a game show. The three different referees, with white teeth, taking turns over the three rounds looked like game show hosts. The audience whooped and applauded their man, and booed and heckled his opponent. It reminded me of that old classic – The Price is Right.

The rules of the game show were that each politician had one minute, or more often thirty seconds, to either give an answer or ask a question of his opponent. At the end of the allotted time, a gong would go off. Bong! Like the Gong Show.

But, of course, the combatants - Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and leader of the largest opposition party, Donald Tusk – didn’t keep to the rules.

Instead of asking a question, they made a statement. When they ignored the gong going off, Bong!, after still not asking a question, the hapless referees - political journalists and one was the head of Polish Radio 3 - would bark, time and again: ‘Time for a question, time for a question..’, as the politicians droned on and on and on....

It was hilarious. Round One was on the economy – a bit predictable - but things started to get heated during Round Two – foreign policy.

Donald Tusk berates the Prime Minister for his Rottweiler style of diplomacy [cheers, boos,] Bong! Kaczynski infers that Tusk isn’t Polish, he’s German (he comes from Gdansk/Danzig) Boo ....Cheer....Bong!...and that if Tusk wins the election then he would lay down at the feet of Brussels, giving up all the vetoes and blocks that Kaczynski is trying to make sure stay in any new EU Reform/Constitution Treaty and [referee, ‘Time for a question, time for a question’]...Boo.....Hiss.....Cheer....Poland will consequently continue to be infected by ‘homosexualism and euthanasia’.....Boo....Hiss.....Cheer......Laugh.....Boo....Bong!

Audience: 'Don-ald Tusk, Don-ald Tusk....Ka-czyn-ski, Ka-czyn-ski....'

And so it went on. I watched open mouthed, waiting for a hook on the end of a long stick to emerge from the side of the stage and rap around one of their necks and haul them off the set.


Who won? Eighty five percent of viewers of the private TVN 24 said it was a crushing win by Tusk - but they are Tusk voters. Thing is – it wasn’t a game show. Nobody walked off with the cuddly toy and the fortnight in Ibiza. Supporters of Kaczynski will think he won; supporters of Tusk will say he did.

As for the ‘floating voter’, torn widely by the charisma and verve of the two main players in the Polish election, I really don’t think they have learned anything about these characters that they didn’t, unfortunately, know already.