Twelve quotes from Poland’s TV election debate

By Agata Pyka

Yesterday’s televised debate on state broadcaster TVP was the only time during the campaign that the six main groups standing in this Sunday’s elections have agreed to join one another on stage.

An average of over 5.4 million viewers tuned in to the live broadcasts across the three TVP channels the debate was shown on, according to Nielsen figures.

Opposition leader @donaldtusk has announced that he will attend an election debate on state TV, which is under government influence.

He challenged Jarosław Kaczyński to join him, but the ruling party leader says he has other commitments that day

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 6, 2023

While labelled a debate, participants were not actually able to directly address one another. Instead, they answered questions put to them by the hosts on six topics: immigration, the retirement age, social benefits, privatisation, national security and unemployment. Each then had one extra minute for closing statements.

Below we present our selection of 12 quotes from the event, two from each participant.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Law and Justice (PiS)

“As long as the PiS government is in power, Poland is like an unconquered fortress.”

Asked about national security, the prime minister contrasted the tough approach taken by his national-conservative government with the alleged softness of its predecessor.

“It hurts Mr Tusk that I left big money for Poland and he left Poland for big money.”

In a jibe at his main opponent, Donald Tusk of the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), Morawiecki referred to the fact that he gave up a job as a well-paid international banker to enter politics whereas Tusk in 2014 quit as prime minister to take up the better-paid role of European Council president.

🔴 Ja zostawiłem wielkie pieniądze dla Polski, a Tusk zostawił Polskę dla wielkich pieniędzy – Premier @MorawieckiM podczas #debata. #TylkoPiS

— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) October 9, 2023

Donald Tusk, Civic Coalition (KO)

“As I vowed in front of millions on the streets of Warsaw: we will win together, we will settle accounts, we will repair wrongs and we will reconcile the nation.”

Referring to a mass opposition rally in Warsaw at the start of this month, Tusk reiterated his promise to remove PiS from power and hold its leading figures to account for what the opposition say are repeated violations of the law.

“Ladies and gentlemen, did you know that Mateusz Morawiecki and [Orlen CEO Daniel] Obajtek sold the Gdansk refinery to Saudi Arabia, who paid for it half of what they paid for the football player Ronaldo?”

The KO leader pointed to what his group say is the hypocrisy of PiS, which has accused Tusk’s former government of selling off state-owned assets while itself overseeing the sale of energy infrastructure to Saudi and Hungarian buyers.

💬 Przewodniczący @donaldtusk 👇

Bezpieczna Polska to znaczy, że tchórze i dziwolągi nie mogą rządzić Ojczyzną👇#PolskaWNaszychSercach #Debata

— PlatformaObywatelska (@Platforma_org) October 9, 2023

Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, The Left (Lewica)

“Poland needs a wise migration policy – one that gives us security but also one that does not allow children to die in forests, as is now happening on the border with Belarus.”

Migration has been a major topic in the election campaign, including in relation to the continued crisis on the border with Belarus, where tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have sought to cross – and where many have died.

“What has been given will not be taken away, but will be valorised every year. Social policy has to be systemic – it is not enough to give 500 or 800 zloty, because it will always be insufficient.”

Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus highlighted her group’s promise to not only maintain the popular social handouts introduced by PiS, but to raise them in line with the cost of living. She also called for a broader strengthening of social policy, such as through state-led housebuilding and free public transport.

🔥 @JoankaSW: Prawda jest taka, że pracujemy najciężej w Europie. My wszyscy. Nowoczesne państwo dobrobytu to czas na rodzinę, czas wolny i pracę. Polacy zasługują na to aby złapać oddech.

✅ Skrócimy czas pracy do 35 godzin tygodniowo z zachowaniem poziomu wynagrodzeń


— Lewica (@__Lewica) October 9, 2023

Szymon Hołownia, The Third Way (Trzecia Droga)

“To all these party fat cats…I have one simple message: pack your litter boxes.”

Szymon Hołownia of the centre-right Third Way alliance accused PiS of using state-owned companies for its own personal gain.

“We respect your money very much because we know with what effort you earn it. And it is not confetti for the government to scatter from a helicopter.”

Third Way has argued that, while benefits introduced by PiS should remain, they should be better targeted – by, for example, making them means tested rather than universal.

Tego pytania nie zadali, a szkoda. Na TVP też mamy plan. Kolejna debata nie może tak wyglądać. #TrzeciaDroga

— Szymon Hołownia (@szymon_holownia) October 9, 2023

Krzysztof Bosak, Confederation (Konfederacja)

“We are proposing zero welfare for Ukrainians. It can’t be that the Polish taxpayer finances the Ukrainians.”

Krzysztof Bosak’s far-right Confederation party has long argued that Poland has been too generous in its support for the millions of Ukrainian refugees who fled Russia’s invasion last year.

“Benefits for Poles should be maintained but all taxation should be cut. Poverty comes from inflation and from the new costs which Prime Minister Morawiecki with the support of The Left and [Civic] Platform have brought down on Poland.”

Confederation’s campaign has focused in particular on its libertarian economic policies, arguing that cutting taxes is the route to prosperity.

Współprzewodniczący #Konfederacji @krzysztofbosak na #DebataTVP: My proponujemy oszczędność, w pierwszej kolejności – zero socjalu dla Ukraińców!
To nie może być tak, że polski podatnik finansuje 500 plus, 800 plus, rodzinny kapitał opiekuńczy, 300 plus, kredyty 2%, żeby Ukraińcy…

— Konfederacja (@KONFEDERACJA_) October 9, 2023

Krzysztof Maj, Nonpartisan Local Government Activists (Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy)

“Poland is a large and hospitable country – there is room for those who want to work.”

Asked about immigration, Maj appealed to the idea of Polish hospitality, but at the same time highlighted that only migrants ready to contribute to the Polish economy should be welcomed in the country.

“500+ plus has caught on, 800+ is just chasing inflation. We have another idea: to reduce PIT [personal income tax] to 0%, that’s what people under 26 are paying at the moment because they’ve been given such a gift. You have to reward the working people.”

Referring to PiS’s flagship child benefit programme – which the government recently raised from 500 to 800 zloty a month – Maj called for tax cuts to ease the cost of living for Poles amid recent high inflation

💬Zamiast wydatków na TVP, bezpłatna, kolejowa komunikacja regionalna w całym kraju. To podobny koszt. Do tego PIT-0 dla pracujących, nie tylko do 26. roku życia – mówi @KrzysztofMajWro w #DebataTVP włącz dźwięk 🔊🔊🔊 #NormalnaPolska

— Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy (@BezpartyjniSam) October 9, 2023

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: Dawid Zuchowicz / Agencja

Agata Pyka is an assistant editor at Notes from Poland. She is a journalist and a political communication student at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in Polish and European politics as well as investigative journalism and has previously written for Euractiv and The European Correspondent.

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