Farmers protest leader to stand for Polish opposition, pledging to “take back countryside from PiS”

Poland’s main opposition group, the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), today revealed the names of some figures who will stand as its parliamentary election candidates this autumn.

Among the surprises unveiled by KO leader Donald Tusk was Michał Kołodziejczak, the head of Agrounia, a farmers’ movement that has regularly protested against the government. Adam Bodnar, who served as Poland’s human rights commissioner from 2015-21, will also stand for KO.

“We will take back the countryside from PiS,” declared Kołodziejczak, referring to the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which traditionally dominates among rural voters.

Poland’s decision to ban Ukrainian grain – angering both Kyiv and Brussels – highlighted how important rural votes are for the ruling party as it bids for re-election.

Rural areas account for 40% of Poland’s population, one of the highest levels in the EU

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 25, 2023

Kołodziejczak was once a PiS local councillor but was expelled from the party in 2015 when he began organising farmers’ protests. His Agrounia has since risen to prominence by using tractors to block roads, while Kołodziejczak himself has been a combative and charismatic presence.

The protests he has led helped to derail an animal rights law proposed by PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński in 2020. They have also pushed the government to provide more support to the agriculture sector to protect it from soaring inflation over the last two years.

Most recently Agrounia was at the forefront of protests by Polish farmers against the import of Ukrainian grain to Poland, which they said was pushing down prices. That led the government to introduce a ban on such imports.

Poland’s deputy agriculture minister in dialogue with farmers leaders

— Daniel Tilles (@danieltilles1) July 28, 2023

Over the years, Kołodziejczak has flirted with a number of other political groups on the far right and centre-right. Earlier this year, his Agrounia was in a short-lived alliance with the small Agreement (Porozumienie) party and recently there was talk of joining the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) alliance.

Announcing the partnership with Agrounia today, Tusk admitted that “we are joining…with people who often have completely different views than me, but have the same conviction that in order to restore Poland’s values, it is necessary to…remove PiS from power”, reports the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

Tusk also revealed that Bodnar – who often clashed with the PiS government during his time as human rights commissioner – would stand as a KO candidate for the Senate.

To jest stan wyższej konieczności. Zrobimy wszystko, by odbić wieś PiS-owi. Nie tylko wieś. @AGROunia_

— Michał Kołodziejczak (@EKOlodziejczak_) August 16, 2023

The KO leader was also joined on stage by Hanna Gill-Piątek, an MP from Poland 2050 (Polska 2050), a rival centrist group that is part of Third Way. He likewise announced that Karolina Pawliczak, an MP from The Left (Lewica), Poland’s second-largest opposition group, will now stand for KO.

“At stake in the elections on 15 October is the future of our homeland, the liberation of Poland,” said Tusk, quoted by news website Onet. “For this, we need people from all sides of the political scene and public life.”

The KO leader also revealed that his group has nearly achieved gender balance on its electoral lists, with 48% female candidates and 52% male.

Women’s rights is the “number one issue” in Poland, says opposition leader @donaldtusk

He declared abortion up to 12 weeks, IVF, contraception and sex education to be „fundamental rights” and pledged gender parity among his party’s top election candidates

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 22, 2023

KO was formed in 2018 and is dominated by Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) party. Other members of the alliance include the liberal Modern (Nowoczesna) and The Greens (Zieloni).

The group is currently running second in polls with support of around 29%, behind PiS on 34%. Some polls in recent months have included Agrounia as an option, but it has regularly obtained support of less than 1%.

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Marcin Stepien / Agencja

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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