August 12, 2019 / 2:54 PM / 13 days ago

Poland's ruling party emerges unscathed from flights scandal

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s ruling nationalists appear on track to win October’s parliamentary vote, three opinion polls show, despite a scandal over the private use of government aircraft by the party’s speaker of parliament who was forced to resign on Friday.

Poland's parliament speaker Marek Kuchcinski speaks during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, August 8, 2019. Dawid Zuchowicz/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS

On Monday, a survey conducted between Aug. 9-10 for the Rzeczpospolita daily by IBRIS showed the Law and Justice (PiS) party winning 41.2% of votes, versus 41.7% shown in an IBRIS poll before the flights were reported by Polish media.

Two other polls published over the weekend showed similar levels of support.

The party said flight logs showed Marek Kuchcinski, a long-time senior PiS loyalist, did nothing illegal in the journeys, which included flights to the southeastern city of Rzeszow with his family using aircraft reserved for government business.

Analysts said his resignation was an effort to placate more moderate voters ahead of the Oct. 13 vote.

PiS hopes to expand its mandate for more conservative reforms, and needs to ensure moderate voters who may be concerned over its spat with the EU over democratic standards, such as over changes to the role of the judiciary, do not turn to other parties.

“PiS showed its critics that it listens to them and respects them,” Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at Warsaw University, said.

Since winning power in 2015, PiS has kept a steady lead over centrist and liberal opposition groupings, benefiting from fast economic growth, low unemployment and public support for its nationalist rhetoric.

The opposition has struggled to gain control of public debate, with various groups shifting alliances in a bid to boost their standing in the polls.

In the run-up to the ballot, opposition groups have coalesced into three blocs.

Poland’s Civic Platform formerly led by European Council President Donald Tusk has formed the Civic Coalition with smaller liberal party Nowoczesna.

The progressive Wiosna party of Robert Biedron, Poland’s first openly gay lawmaker, has formed a coalition with two left-wing parties, including a grouping of ex-communist officials.

The center-right, agrarian Polish Peasants’ Party (PSL) has gone into coalition with the anti-establishment Kukiz ‘15 party.

An IBRIS poll for Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily and RMF FM showed PiS voters were much less concerned about the scandal than opposition supporters, with only 18% judging Kuchcinski’s use of the flights as “very bad”, compared with 91% of Civic Coalition voters.

Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Alan Charlish and Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Alison Williams

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