Celebrity candidate for President ready to confirm his run

Szymon Hołownia, the host of a popular TV talent show, has confirmed that he will stand for President as an independent. Rumours are rife that it could be a stalking horse for formation of a new political party.

Szymon Hołownia, the host of a popular TV talent show is expected to announce on Sunday in Gdańsk that he will be running for President in next year’s election. He will run as an independent candidate.

Mr Hołownia is a liberal Catholic activist who has risen to relative frame through his appearances as the host of the Polish show of the “You’ve got Talent” franchise. He intends to project himself as a candidate who will try to bridge the partisan divide between parties and who will concentrate on issues such as climate change and the environment.

Mr Hołownia’s supporters will be encouraged by the success of rock musician Paweł Kukiz who polled 21 percent in the 2015 presidential first round and went on to enter Parliament on top of his own slate “Kukiz ‘15”. But they will hope that he could do better and emulate Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zhelensky, who went straight from his TV show to the country’s Presidency.

Stalking horse for a new party?

There are those who suspect Mr Hołownia’s run for President has the tacit support of Donald Tusk, the former PM and President of the European Council. Mr Hołownia’s challenge is to shake up the Civic Platform (PO), which some people inside that party, as well as those outside, feel may have come to the end of the road as a viable opposition force.

Mr Tusk decided not to stand in next year’s presidential election. He felt he had too much “negative baggage” of unpopular government decisions of the past. No doubt the fact he had already once run for the Presidency and lost (2005) will have preyed on his mind. It may also be the case that he was not willing to go through the hardship of a domestic election campaign, preferring to keep a prominent role in European politics (EPP leader since November this year) and one of remaining a major figure of influence in the background in Poland.

If Mr Hołownia’s run for President takes off, it would not be the first time that a Presidential election led to a major shake-up on Poland’s political scene. This was certainly the case in 2000 when an independent candidate, Andrzej Olechowski, beat the ruling Solidarity Election Action (AWS) leader Marian Krzaklewski. Mr Olechowski failed to beat the sitting President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, but his run for President led to the formation of a new party in early 2001, the Civic Platform, and to the break-up of the ruling AWS.

But these are early days. An independent candidate is as likely to fail to break through and end up with support under five percent. Mr Hołownia will have a major uphill task in securing the organization and the funding for his bid. Moreover, the existing opposition parties will respond to the challenge.

The recent parliamentary elections saw a rise in support for the Left, the Polish People’s Party (PSL) and the radical right “Confederation”. They will all be fielding candidates and campaigning actively in the first round of the Presidential election.

Moreover, the PO will still be favourites to get the candidate they field into the second round of the presidential election. A score of little over 20 percent should ensure that this is the case. In such a situation Mr Hołownia and his supporters would have little choice but to back the PO’s candidate in the second round, along with both the Left and the PSL.

This is why Mr Tusk is unlikely to back Mr Hołownia in the first round of the election. He may keep his fingers crossed that Szymon Hołownia succeeds in shaking up the PO with a score in the teens in terms of percentage of the vote, and that this will lead to changes in the political leadership of the opposition, ahead of future parliamentary elections. But he will not want to figure as anything other than an honest broker or father of opposition unity, not of its break-up.

Andrzej Duda, the sitting President backed by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), remains the odds-on favourite to win the coming Presidential election. His lead in the polls in the first round is in the region of 20 percentage points. However, his lead in an eventual second round against the PO’s favourite, Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, is estimated to be well below 10 percentage points.