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Seven important individuals to keep an eye on in the upcoming Polish election.

The upcoming general election in Poland on October 15 appears to be a battle between two experienced and seasoned political leaders.

For the past twenty years, Polish politics has been largely shaped by two men: Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the conservative party Law and Justice (PiS) currently in power, and Donald Tusk, the leader of the opposition party Civic Platform.

In the upcoming year, they will need to contend with other individuals in order to maintain control. According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls, no single party has sufficient backing to secure a majority in parliament. This means they will have to rely on smaller factions, such as the moderate Third Way or the extreme right Confederation, in addition to the unwavering support of their own party members, which cannot always be guaranteed.

These are the seven influential figures in Polish politics:

Jarosław Kaczyński is known as the Puppet Master.

Leszek Szymanski/EFE via EPA

The de facto ruler of Poland is the 70-year-old leader of PiS.

Kaczyński, a lesser-known member of the anti-communist movement during the 1980s, rose to prominence in the political arena as a Member of Parliament in the 1990s. In 2001, he co-founded PiS with his twin brother, Lech, who became president but tragically passed away in 2010 due to a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia.

Kaczyński rules PiS with an iron hand — every big decision goes through his office in a battered building near central Warsaw. It’s also the pilgrimage site for prime ministers and even President Andrzej Duda to show fealty to the man who really runs Poland.

He has long held a grudge over Poland’s post-1989 transformation following the end of communism, and his long-running agenda is to dramatically reshape the country’s courts, media and other institutions while creating new elites dependent on his party’s favor.

If the PiS maintains control, anticipate similar actions from the unmarried cat enthusiast who strongly dislikes Donald Tusk.

Donald Tusk, the bruised hero.

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A centrist liberal with a pro-European agenda, the 66-year-old Tusk co-founded Civic Platform in 2001, months before the Kaczyński brothers launched PiS.

In 2007, he was elected as the prime minister when Civic Platform overthrew a brief PiS administration. He held a strong influence in Polish politics until he left for Brussels and became the European Council president in 2014. The collapse of the party he had been a part of was largely attributed to his charisma and political expertise, which paved the way for PiS to gain control in 2015.

In 2021, Tusk returned to Poland in an attempt to revive his party, Civic Platform, and potentially rescue the EU, as its popularity continued to decline in the polls.

Similar to Kaczyński, he also faces a significant opposition who strongly dislikes him – yet his influence has revitalized the opposing side. No other political figure could gather the immense demonstration in Warsaw on October 1.

Kaczyński views Tusk as the most significant obstacle to his hold on authority, resulting in the government and state-controlled media launching a barrage of harsh criticism against him. The primary allegation is that he is not a patriotic Pole, but rather collaborating with Berlin, anonymous Eurocrats in Brussels, and even the Kremlin to undermine Poland’s sovereignty.

Mateusz Morawiecki: The Banker

The image is credited to Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images.

Kaczyński has selected Morawiecki, who is currently 55 years old, to be the prime minister. Morawiecki began his career in the financial industry and earned a large sum of money through banking before becoming an economic adviser to Tusk’s cabinet in 2010.

In 2017, he changed his political affiliation to PiS and assumed the position of prime minister. He was seen as a fresh and energetic option compared to the previous prime minister, Beata Szydło. He possessed a rare proficiency in English within the PiS party and had a background in finance and EU law, having co-authored the first Polish textbook on the subject. The party was optimistic that he would improve relations with Brussels and improve their reputation internationally.

However, with Morawiecki at the helm, Poland has experienced a significant decrease in the adherence to legal principles, resulting in an ongoing dispute with the EU and a shift towards authoritarianism.

Morawiecki’s past sets him apart in PiS, as loyalty to Kaczyński is highly valued, and there are constant speculations that he will be removed by someone with a closer relationship to the leader. These rumors are likely to resurface if PiS is victorious in the election.

Rafał Trzaskowski is known as “The Princeling.”

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Trzaskowski, who is 51 years old and serves as the mayor of Warsaw, has often been seen as the potential future leader of the Civic Platform party. He has been praised for his eloquence, charisma, and dedication to European ideals. Trzaskowski has formed a coalition with other eastern European capitals to combat the authoritarian tendencies of their respective governments.

Trzaskowski, who is popular among younger voters of the Civic Platform, was a close runner-up in the 2020 presidential election against incumbent President Duda, who was supported by PiS. While he may not always agree with Tusk, he has the potential to bridge the gap between Civic Platform and smaller opposition parties in order to form a parliamentary majority.

At the moment, he has eliminated the possibility of competing against Tusk for the position of prime minister in the event that Civic Platform wins the election.

Zbigniew Ziobro: The Sheriff

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Ziobro, aged 53, is among the rare politicians in the nation who have challenged Kaczyński and managed to maintain their political standing. He was once considered as Kaczyński’s potential successor, but their relationship deteriorated and Ziobro left PiS to establish his own far-right party, United Poland.

Kaczyński hasn’t forgiven him and readmitted him to PiS, but the Law and Justice leader fears rivals on the political right, so has allowed Ziobro and other United Poland candidates onto PiS’s electoral lists.

Ziobro, serving as justice minister, has been responsible for leading Kaczyński’s significant political endeavor: the restructuring of the government’s perceived corrupt and ineffective judicial system. This move has been viewed by the EU as an effort to manipulate the courts for political gain, causing Ziobro to be viewed unfavorably by the European Commission.

However, Ziobro’s authority, as he holds the positions of both justice minister and chief prosecutor, and his influence over investigators who have the ability to incriminate political opponents, solidifies his position as a prominent figure in any potential PiS-led administration.

Sławomir Mentzen: The Disruptor

This image was captured by Albert Zawada and published by EFE through EPA.

At the age of 36, Mentzen has already proven his capacity to disrupt political predictions.

Mentzen, a tax expert, business owner (with his own beer brand), and self-proclaimed libertarian, is the leader of Confederation – a coalition of smaller far-right groups that could play a pivotal role in the post-election power negotiations. Despite the party’s opposition to the social welfare system established by PiS, there are rumors of Mentzen potentially joining forces with Kaczyński in exchange for a well-paying role in the government.

Unfortunately, the party comes with a heavy load. In the 2019 European Parliament election, Mentzen presented a five-point plan: “We oppose Jews, homosexuals, abortion, taxes, and the European Union.”

Szymon Hołownia: The Spoiler

Artur Reszko/EFE via EPA

While Mentzen has created his own beer brand, Hołownia, who is 47 years old, has taken it a step further by naming an entire political party after himself.

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Tusk enticed Hołownia to join the all-encompassing political alliance, the Civic Coalition, but instead, he chose to form an unexpected political alliance with the rural Polish People’s Party. This union, known as The Third Way, has faced difficulties in establishing a unified message, and Hołownia’s personal issues with Tusk have not aided their prospects.

The Third Way must receive a minimum of 8 percent of the vote in order to obtain seats in parliament. Anything less would only benefit the larger parties, potentially giving PiS enough seats to govern independently.


To access additional polling information from various European countries, please visit the POLITICO Poll of Polls.