Donald Tusk, former President of the Council of the European Union and twice Polish prime minister, announced his comeback to Polish politics on July 3.
Tusk’s return is seen as a glimmer of hope for Poland’s biggest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), just over two years before the next general election. PO has seen its popularity and vigour wane since losing the parliamentary vote in 2015, shortly after Tusk left Poland to take over as the EU Council president.
Since Tusk’s departure, PO also lost the election in 2019, unable to mount a counter-narrative to the populism of the ruling rightwing coalition, led by Law and Justice (PiS).
“I’m back 100%,” Tusk told a PO convention in Warsaw. He immediately became PO's acting leader.
“The most important thing is to regain faith in agency and the possibility of winning,” Tusk said, adding, “You’re not going to win if you don’t believe in the sense of your existence.”
Tusk, 64, returns when the ruling tripartite rightwing coalition led by Law and Justice (PiS) appears the weakest since taking over power – from PO – in 2015. The coalition is coming apart at the seams, as PiS can no longer count on its two smaller partners to support key reforms.
The coalition has also suffered a series of defections, the most recent one ridding it of the parliamentary majority. That has prompted speculation of a snap election coming up this autumn.
A boost in the polls that Tusk might bring about for PO could help the party climb back up to lead the opposition and the next government. Without Tusk, PO not only has trailed to PiS for years but was also overtaken by the new centre-right group, Polska 2050.
The PiS-led coalition averaged just over 33% in the polls in June, ahead of Polska 2050 at just over 20% and the PO-led Civic Coalition at nearly 17%.
There are no party polls yet that would factor in Tusk’s return.
Tusk devoted much of his comeback speech to PiS. “Today, they’re meeting to talk about how they can go on stealing without people realising it,” Tusk said, alluding to a PiS congress that was taking place concurrently last weekend.
The former head of the EU Council also lambasted PiS for its handling of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
“Nowhere, and surely not in Europe, did I see politicians in power who were only thinking about how to make money while there were people dying in a pandemic,” Tusk said.
“You should apologise,” Tusk appealed to PiS.
Tusk also criticised PiS’s budget and fiscal policy, the coalition’s approach to climate change, and blamed the government for Poland losing its international standing.
“We are all alone like we never were in the past few decades. PiS is carrying out Russian agenda,” Tusk said.
“I want to address this to all Poles now. They [PiS] are only strong because we are weak. Open your eyes and look at them today. They are grotesque. A parody of a dictatorship. They’re not any overwhelming force. We are overwhelmed because we lack faith,” Tusk said.
Tusk said little of his strategy ahead of the parliamentary elections, which will take place in 2023 unless PiS calls a snap vote as a means of refreshing its popular mandate and – possibly – get rid of unruly coalition partners.
Tusk only said he had been in touch with some leaders of the centre-right opposition but he would not reveal concrete ideas yet.
“Let me keep my cards close to my chest for now,” Tusk said.