Rural faithful may give Kaczynskis the edge

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The question struck Helena Angielczyk as bizarre.

“What do you mean, ‘Who are you going to vote for’? It’s obvious – only Law and Justice,” she said, holding a white rosary and standing outside the church in Rudka, a village 150km east of Warsaw. A crowd had gathered around her and murmured their assent.

“They are Catholic – you have to vote for them,” said Andrzej Zochowski, who is jobless and lives on disability payments. “The Kaczynskis are better than anyone who has come before. They are fighting corruption; the economy is growing and life is getting better.”

The Law and Justice party (PiS) of the Kaczynski brothers – Jaroslaw, the prime minister, and Lech, the president – may not be getting much support in Poland’s larger cities and among the wealthiest and best-educated segment of the population. But the party’s core support is in smaller towns and villages, particularly among the less well-educated, the devout and those who have not prospered during the 18-year transition from socialism to capitalism.

“Surveys show that the countryside is where Law and Justice is strongest,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, director of programming at the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw think-tank. “It has become the leading party for traditional and Catholic Poland.”

With one third of Poles living in the countryside, the PiS’s rural strength could give it the edge over its main rival, the pro-business Civic Platform, headed by Donald Tusk, in the October 21 general election.

Most opinion polls show the two parties roughly tied. Although the PiS appears to be gaining strength and may well emerge as the largest party after the vote, it is not clear whether it will be able to form a government.

The PiS has benefited from Civic Platform’s lacklustre campaign, which relies more on playing up dissatisfaction with the Kaczynskis than with presenting an attractive programme of its own.

The result has been a lack of passion among Civic Platform’s core electorate – the urban middle classes – although the party still leads in most larger cities. “I’m probably going to vote for Platform but without a lot enthusiasm,” said Karol Radziwill, a Warsaw lawyer.

Metropolitan elites and outside observers despair of the Kaczynskis. The twins have been criticised for their anti-German comments, their prickly relationship with the European Union, and over cultural issues such as homosexuality.

Domestically, the PiS has been criticised for its lack of economic reforms and for its often inept attempts at tackling corruption and exposing people who collaborated during the communist era.

But the Kaczynskis appear very different in a place like Rudka. The local collective farm went bust in the early 1990s and the village has not attracted much investment beyond a funeral-candle factory. The Kaczynskis are seen as honest, religious and patriotic, and willing to stick up for ordinary people.

“Maybe the view is a little clearer out here – far from Warsaw,” said Andrzej Anusiewicz, head of the local commune. Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s attacks on the wealthy “oligarchy” have been particularly popular, he said.

Mrs Angielczyk, a pensioner and regular listener to the nationalist and Catholic Radio Maryja network, is one of those keen on PiS jabs at Poland’s wealthiest business people. “We have to take away from those who have a lot,” she said.

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