An estimated one million people took part on a march in Warsaw on October 1 to express the unity and strength of the opposition ahead of the general election on October 15.
The “One Million Hearts” march, called by leader of the centrist Civic Coalition's Donald Tusk, marks the climax of an extremely bitter and aggressive campaign that has pitted the incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) party against the Civic Coalition and its two closest allies, the Left and the Third Way, another centrist group.
“Today marks a great change, a signal of a great Polish revival,” Tusk told the crowd at the start of the march. His speech was not about the particulars of Civic Coalition’s election platform but rather a vision of an “end to the war of Poles against Poles and a national reconciliation”.
With the energy of the rally now expected to spread throughout Poland via media and as the participants return home, Tusk is hoping for a surge in momentum that will allow his party to close in on PiS on the election day.
Analyses show that if the Left and the Third Way win around 10% of the vote each – which is what polls tend to give them – the opposition stands a very realistic chance of forming the next government. Tusk would be the natural candidate for the new prime minister.
“Donald Tusk! Donald Tusk!” the crowd chanted time and again during Tusk’s speech.
Back in Europe?
“I’m here because I want Poland to be a European country back again,” Justyna, a 40-year old teacher from Warsaw said, as she held up Polish and EU flags.
The opposition’s strategy of success is to boost turnout beyond hardline voters on election day, especially from women, whom studies consistently show to be much more liberal than Polish men. Tusk and other leaders of the march all addressed Polish women, encouraging them to vote PiS out and end policies such as Europe’s toughest abortion laws.
“I want women to have their rights like the right to abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy,” one of the leaders of the Left, Wlodzimierz Czarzasty, told the rally.
PiS, whose media either ignored the rally or claimed it was a flop, turnout-wise, staged its own event, a convention in the Spodek sports and music venue in Katowice, the heart of Poland’s industrialised south.
“[This election] is about Tusk’s system never coming back,” PiS Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski told the convention, referring to Tusk’s two terms in office as a prime minister in 2007-2015.
PiS reiterated its main campaign points in Katowice: winning the election in two weeks will guarantee Poles security against Russia and migration.
“Poland is the last bastion of Europe and safety. The last place where you can still go for a walk after 10pm,” Dominik Tarczynski, a PiS MEP, said.
The PiS convention’s message was crafted to resonate in the ruling party’s strongholds: small towns and the countryside, where resentment against the Tusk era is still robust.
In the run-up to the rally, PiS has averaged 38% in the polls, eight percentage points ahead of Civic Coalition. The Left and the Third Way average 10% each while the far-right Konfederacja – sometimes tipped as PiS’ potential coalition partner – has polled at 9% on average.