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Cablegate: Centrist Civic Platform Surges in Pre-Election

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: The centrist Civic Platform (PO) has moved
into a strong first-place position in the latest opinion
surveys, with just a few weeks remaining before Polish
parliamentary and presidential elections. PO's recent surge
suggests that the party will dominate a coalition government
formed with the center-right Law and Justice (PiS), whose own
support remains steady and should ensure that the two parties
will be able to govern without the need for a third coalition
partner. PO has been aided by the remarkable increase in
support for its presidential candidate and party leader,
Donald Tusk, who now holds a commanding lead over PiS rival
Lech Kaczynski and SLD candidate Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.
PO's and Tusk's advantage may yet prove short-lived as
opponents resume intensive campaigning after the August lull
and redirect their fire, but both the party and the
presidential candidate enter the final phase of the campaign
in an enviable position, with their popular support at
all-time highs. End summary.

Polls mark surge for PO, Tusk

2. (U) Three major opinion polls conducted at the beginning
of September indicate that PO has broken out of its virtual
tie with PiS, as large numbers of undecided voters appear to
be moving into its camp as the September 25 vote draws
closer. Among likely voters with a clear preference, PO has
the support of between 38 and 34 percent, with PiS well
behind, drawing between 23 and 29 percent of those surveyed.
Significantly, PO's rise has not come at PiS's expense, and
the combined support of both parties is now clearly well
above the levels to ensure majority control of parliament.
These latest polls suggest that just three and possibly four
other parties will pass the five-percent threshold for
parliamentary representation, with the governing SLD,
populist Self-Defense, and right-wing LPR all hovering around
ten percent, and the Peasants' party flirting with the
five-percent mark.

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3. (U) The growth in popular support for PO presidential
candidate Tusk has been even more remarkable, leading many
analysts to conclude that Tusk's rise has driven the increase
in PO's numbers. In less than a month, Tusk's support has
gone from the low teens to around forty percent of the vote
(the three most recent surveys produced nearly identical
levels for the three leading candidates: roughly 40 percent
for Tusk, 22 percent for Kaczynski, and 18 percent for
Cimoszewicz). Self-Defense's Andrzej Lepper remains far
behind at ten percent, with the rest of the field in the low
single digits. Although many are skeptical -- particularly
given the volatility of the presidential race thus far --
that Tusk's support will continue to rise, the PO leader's
rapid ascent in the polls has prompted his campaign to look
at a possible first-round victory (i.e., more than fifty
percent of the vote), something previously considered
unthinkable for any of the candidates.

Why Tusk, and why now?

4. (SBU) Tusk's opponents attribute the PO leader's standings
to his being the only candidate on the hustings during the
August vacation season, maintaining that the dynamics of the
race will change as it gets into full gear leading up to the
first round October 9. Certainly, the PO candidate's team
has made the most of the past few weeks, with a full campaign
schedule and the launch of a broad and effective media
effort. Tusk picked up an important endorsement from rival
Zbigniew Religa, who withdrew from the presidential race
September 2 (this support is seen as significant given
Religa's high personal credibility ratings). The PO
candidate was also helped by coverage of the Solidarity 25th
anniversary events (at which Lech Walesa reiterated his
backing of Tusk) and by Tusk's association with the cause of
embattled ethnic Poles in Belarus (he made a high-profile
visit there in early August).

5. (SBU) Tusk has also benefited directly from the steady
fall in public support for Cimoszewicz, whose brief reign at
the top of opinion polls was ended by (apparently false)
accusations of improper financial disclosure, made by a
disgruntled former aide. The affair forced the Cimoszewicz
campaign on the defensive, reinforced the public's
association of the candidate with other SLD corruption
scandals, and weakened Cimoszewicz's appeal to those seeking
an alternative to Kaczynski. Moderate, reassuring and
perhaps even a little dull, Tusk was well positioned to
inherit the role of "anti-Kaczynski," a figure plausible as
president and less ideologically divisive than the PiS
candidate (or Cimoszewicz, for that matter). In the end,
Tusk may well prevail if only because he has (so far, at
least) the lowest negative rankings among the three serious
contenders remaining.

Election not over yet

6. (SBU) With as many as forty percent of likely voters still
undecided, no one is prepared to suggest that PO and Tusk
have a lock on their races, no matter how impressive their
leads at this point. PiS has already begun to step up its
populist attacks on PO, charging that PO's programs favor the
rich; the other parties are certain to join in seeking to
reverse the Civic Platform's fortunes. The Cimoszewicz
team's initial counterattack on PO (accusing it of complicity
in bringing the false charges against him) appears to have
fizzled, but Tusk will remain the principle target of the
other campaigns as long as he holds on to first place.

7. (SBU) Finally, the polling numbers describe trends, but
may not deliver an exact picture. Actual support for protest
parties such as Self-Defense and LPR, for example, may be
higher than polling results indicate, given some voters'
reluctance to admit their preference to pollsters (this
phenomenon could be a factor in estimating SLD support as
well). As PO's and PiS's combined support surpasses sixty
percent, it appears very likely that these two parties will
have a majority in parliament, but an unexpectedly strong
showing by one or more of the lesser parties could cause a
PO-PiS coalition to fall short.

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