Poland has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in Europe, largely due to its partisan politics and a legacy of distrust in state institutions following decades of communist rule.
The Spring progressive party in Poland run by an openly gay atheist politician has jumped to third place in a public opinion poll, potentially complicating the ruling conservatives' prospects for winning a parliamentary election later this year.
A former mayor of the northern city of Slupsk, Robert Biedron, 42, presented his new "Spring" party on Sunday, with a program that includes liberalizing Poland's strict abortion laws, phasing out coal by 2035 and taxing the powerful Catholic Church.
“We want no more Polish-Polish war, we want mutual respect and dialogue,” said Biedron during the party’s inauguration. The MP also told a conference hall packed to the brim that the party would be named Wiosna, meaning Spring.
A survey published late Tuesday by private broadcaster TVN, the first since the party's launch, showed its support at 14 percent. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party stood at 29 percent, one percentage point lower than in January.
Some of Spring’s policies, which defy the conservative status quo, have been laid out. “End tax breaks for the Catholic Church, stop religious lessons in school, and guarantee access to contraception and the right to an abortion until the twelfth week of pregnancy,” according to The Telegraph.
One of Europe's biggest eurosceptic parties in power, PiS has welcomed the rising popularity of Biedron, a former gay rights activist, as having the potential to further fragment the opposition in Poland.
But the emergence of Spring, with its strongly pro-EU platform, could become a threat to PiS rule if it galvanizes voters outside the traditional centrist electorate who are angry over the government's mounting conflict with the European Union.
The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) have been active in thwarting political integration and federalism in the EU. The party also tacitly encourages groups with roots in the fascist and anti-Semitic movements. The PiS also refuses to allow immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa into the country.
"It's true that Biedron's party eats into the (centrist') support," said Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw. "PiS would worry more if the youth and those who don't vote become mobilized."
Poland, which is holding parliamentary elections in the autumn, has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in Europe, largely due to its partisan politics and a legacy of distrust in state institutions following decades of communist rule.
PiS, which has been in power since late 2015, argues it has tried to improve the functioning of the state by overhauling the justice system and public media, but critics at home and abroad accuse it of an authoritarian power grab. The government faces unprecedented legal action from Brussels over its adherence to EU rule of law standards.
Biedron has said that, if elected, he would establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, styled after a body set up in South Africa after apartheid ended, in an effort to examine any abuse of power by the PiS government.
"We will hold those who have subverted basic rights and freedoms accountable," he told supporters on Sunday, according to the state PAP news agency.
In recent months, PiS has also battled a series of scandals, with local media accusing the party of allowing excessive pay at the central bank and running a murky real estate business, as well as corruption at the financial market regulatory authority.
PiS denies any wrongdoing.
The gay atheist MP promises to continue the legacy of the mayor of Gdansk Pawel Adamowicz who is famous for his support of women and minorities.
Adamowicz was stabbed to death in January while participating in a charity event attended by thousands.