Donald Tusk, the leader of the main Liberal opposition grouping Civic Coalition (KO), has claimed the opposition “March of a Million Hearts” rally brought more than a million people onto the Warsaw’s streets on October 1, though police figures cited by the ruling party suggest attendance of around 100,000.
The march had been called for by Tusk to rally supporters of opposition parties ahead of the October 15 general election.
Tusk first called for the march in July, following police intervention in the southern city of Krakow targeting a hospitalised woman, Joanna. He expressed indignation at the treatment of women in Poland, after the tightening of abortion laws, and urged all who oppose the current government to attend the October 1 rally.
He said he hoped attendance would be double that of the previous Warsaw march, on June 4, which City Hall claimed had gathered half a million people.
Joanna was not invited to the demonstration in Warsaw and told reporters she felt she had been used by the opposition for political aims.
The numbers who marched on 1 October are disputed. According to City Hall’s CCTV analysis, at its peak there were over a million at the march, whereas pro-opposition portal Onet.pl put the number at between six and eight hundred thousand. Warsaw’s police reported 60,000 people at the start and just over 100,000 on route.
Speaking at the beginning of the march, Tusk said that the vast rally was a “signal for Poland’s rebirth” and that a “force that cannot be stopped” has been set in motion.
He compared it to the hundreds of thousands who had attended Pope John Paul II’s mass in central Warsaw back in 1979, widely seen as a trigger to the rise of the Solidarity movement in 1980 and subsequent Polish independence in 1989.
Joining Tusk on the platform, the leader of the Left Party, Włodzimierz Czarzasty, appealed for the opposition to form a government after the election. He also called for the government to stop spending money on the Catholic Church.
However, the other main opposition group that would form part of any such government – the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) – chose to focus on the need to win votes in smaller towns. Its two leaders, Szymon Hołownia and Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, attended a campaign event in Częstochowa, southern Poland.
Polish Academy of Science social scientist prof. Henryk Domański told Brussels Signal that the objective of the opposition’s demonstration was to show its strength. However, “because this was the second such demonstration, the effect is weaker for those who were not on the march, especially as there was no real programme to unite around”.
Domański did not think the issue of women’s rights had managed to break through because the opposition had treated the issue “instrumentally”.
On the same day, the ruling Conservatives (PiS) held a major rally for party members and supporters in a giant indoor sports hall in Katowice, the largest city in the mining and industrial region of Silesia.
Addressing the party faithful, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the election on 15 October will determine “whether Poland remains a sovereign country or becomes a province of Europe” and accused Tusk of being committed to a “German vision of Poland” as a “subordinate”.
Morawiecki concentrated on the economy, saying that it was “growing, with unemployment being one of the lowest in the EU” and that “against all expectations we managed to contain inflation without increasing unemployment.”
If PiS retains power for another term, the average salary in the country would rise to the equivalent of just over 2,000 Euros a month from the current level of 1,000 Euro, he said.
The keynote address at the PiS rally was made by party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, who warned against the return of Tusk and his “merry men”. Kaczyński claimed that the opposition leader was “obsessed with neoliberal ideology” which led to him selling off state assets at knockdown prices when in power (2007-2014).
He challenged Tusk’s democratic credentials, claiming that the opposition were planning “to liquidate democracy and any trace of the rule of law”. The opposition leader had promised to physically remove the head of the central bank, Adam Glapiński, from his office, he pointed out.
Prof. Domański said the PiS rally was an attempt to “answer and neutralise” the opposition march. The PiS message on migration is getting through because “the average Pole is concerned about security when he sees the scenes from western and southern Europe” and “may conclude that since these scenes have not reached Poland it is best to keep the present ruling party in power rather than risk the return of Tusk, who for five years was an EU official fully committed to the EU’s policies that failed to deal with the migration crisis.”
According to Politico Europe’s Poll of Polls, PiS, with 38 per cent, is comfortably ahead of Tusk’s bloc on 30 percent. The other three parties projected make it into parliament: the Left, Third Way and the Right wing Confederation, each are estimated to have ten percent of the vote.
However, analysts note that Third Way is a coalition of parties and therefore needs to cross an electoral threshold of eight per cent, rather than five per cent for single parties. If that coalition falls below eight per cent, as some polls indicate, the ruling PiS will be likely to achieve a majority in Parliament, leading to an unprecedented third consecutive term of majority government.