Will a cabinet reshuffle save the Polish government?

By Remi Adekoya

donald tuskPrime Minister Donald Tusk has seen his popularity tank in recent months. The party he leads, Civic Platform (PO), is hardly in better shape. The latest TNS Polska poll showed the ruling party trailing its biggest rival opposition Law and Justice by 9 percentage points. Recent weeks have seen financial scandals come to light involving PO politicians. These are not happy days for the PM and his party. And so Mr Tusk has decided his government needs a make-over replacing seven ministers including the man who has been in charge of Poland’s finances for the past 6 years, Jacek Rostowski. The environment ministry, sports and tourism ministry, higher education and science ministry, digitalization and administration ministry and education ministry also all have new bosses as of today.

However, the biggest winner of the day was Elżbieta Bieńkowska, who is the regional development minister. She will now become deputy PM and her ministry will incorporate the transport ministry following Sławomir Nowak’s resignation last week.

Vote-winning material?

These changes have nothing to do with policy and everything to do with PR. The government will likely maintain its current course, but Mr Tusk desperately needs to reverse souring perceptions of his government. But will the changes he has made be enough to do the trick?

Ms Bieńkowska is by far the most competent minister in the current government and thoroughly deserves the promotion. But she is a technocrat at heart who has yet to exhibit much traces of charisma.

Although she could help the PM somewhat increase his support among women, she is unlikely to sway large swathes of voters to once again support the ruling party. People often say competence is what they seek above all in their politicians, but the truth is that a likeable cabinet minister will win you more support than a merely” competent one any day.

Joanna Klużik-Rostkowska, who will now be education minister, is also well-prepared for the job. She is eloquent, intelligent and comes across as a warm yet decisive person. A vote winner for sure, the only problem being that the education minister is usually not a big news-maker so it is unclear what her impact will be on the ruling party’s poll numbers.

Rafał Trzaskowski, a 41-year old rising star in PO who will head the digitalization and administration ministry, is definitely a significant political asset. He manages to combine intelligence, competence and good-looks without coming off as arrogant. In the digital age we live in, he is likely to be in the news quite often due to the ministry he will head. He will almost definitely help the ruling party improve its standing among young voters and I predict Mr Trzaskowski will in no time become a darling of the Polish media.

The rest of the new ministers, including Mateusz Szczurek, who will head the all-important finance ministry, remain big question marks as they were previously largely unknown to the public and political observers.

What of the PM himself?

Then there is the question of whether the prime minister himself can once again endear himself to Poles and regain his lost popularity. I think this unlikely. When people get fed up of a politician, they usually stay that way.

That, however, does not mean that the PM’s goose is cooked for good. The bellicose and often exasperating leader of the nationalist Law and Justice, Jarosław Kaczyński, is hated by so many Poles that Donald Tusk is still likely to win a head-to-head confrontation with him on any given election day.

If Mr Tusk’s new ministers do relatively well and avoid any scandals or major cock-ups, then PO still has every chance of winning the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015.

Republished with permission from Warsaw Business Journal

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