Friday, 2 September 2011

Poland's Parliamentary Elections - Behind the Antics

The summer draws slowly to an end, the leaves begin to brown and whither, the nights draw in, we return to work and an election looms.

Poland has entered the silly season, with the parliamentary elections little over a month away (9th October). Unfortunately the level of debate displayed in the mainstream media has so-far fallen short of what should be expected for such an important election. The major issue to dominate has been about how, where and when the politicians will take part in debates, rather than discussion about the real issues facing Poland. There are however some underlying issues affecting the trivial games being played out by the politicians on our TV screens.

1. It is almost certainly known in which order the main political parties will end up following the vote. This will be: First, Citizens' Platform (PO); Second, Law and Justice Party (PiS); Third, Democratic Left Alliance (SLD); Fourth, Peasants' Party. It is highly probable therefore that PO will again be in a position to form a government, which would be the first time in Poland's post-communist history that a governing party has been returned to power and would therefore represent a significant victory for PO and its leader Donald Tusk.

2. However, it is extremely unlikely that PO will be able to achieve an overall majority and form a government alone. Therefore, a major part of this election campaign concerns who will enter a government with PO. PO's favoured partner in government remains PSL, with whom it has governed for the past four years. When the PSL had previously been in government (with the SLD - 1993 to 1997 and 2001 to 2005) it left the coalition shortly before elections were due. In this way, it expressed its independence and tried to convince its electorate that it was against the unpopular decisions of the government. This time it seems as though PO has allowed PSL to express its discontent more during the last few months of the government and to push forward some of its own projects. PO understands that a strong vote for the PSL will be good for it, both because it potentially provides a reliable partner for government and also because the PSL are often competing for the support of rural voters with PO's major rival PiS.

3. The major division in the election continues to be between PO and PiS and more precisely between its leaders Tusk and Kaczyński. Polish politics continues to be dominated by the artificial division between two right-wing parties, which in reality agree on a number of fundamental issues. These parties are mutually dependent upon one another and their rivalry maintains a right-wing hegemony within Polish politics.

- PO are attempting to return to the political situation that dominated the elections in 2007, when it was able to win the support of the majority of those that wanted to eject PiS from power. These were mainly young, urban voters who feared that PiS were eroding the country's liberal democratic practices and freedoms. The turnout of 54% was the highest in any election since 1990 and reflected how PO was able to mobilise a section of the electorate that had previously been inactive. It is unlikely however that PO will be able to galvanise voters as they had done four years ago.

- PiS are trying to focus on the economic hardships experienced by some due to such things as rising inflation. Although they are attacking PO for not successfully investing in the country's infrastructure, people remember the PiS government that almost entirely failed to push forward infrastructural development. Despite existing socio-economic problems, PO can claim that they have managed to maintain economic growth throughout their term in office. PiS have refused to take part in any of the televised debates and it seems as though their strategy is to maintain their core and usually loyal vote, which would swell in conditions of a low electoral turnout.

If PiS have a disappointing election then the future of the party with Kaczyński as leader is in doubt, as it would be the fourth election in a row that they have lost. A question is raised as to whether the party - or part of it - would consider entering into an alliance with PO if the possibility arose. It is difficult to imagine that this could happen with Kaczyński in charge. Also this would be the last resort for PO, as it relies on keeping Kaczyński and PiS as the bogey men to that maintains PO's strong support.

4. The leader of the SLD - Grzegorz Napieralski - has failed to build upon his success during the Presidential election and form a broad and progressive coalition of the left (more to follow on this in the next blog post). He is hoping to repeat his success at the Presidential elections, where he managed to run an energetic campaign and travel the country meeting the electorate. It is doubtful whether this strategy will be as successful during a parliamentary campaign and I am sceptical that SLD will improve on their score of 11.5% in 2007. The unspoken aim of the SLD leadership is to gain a high vote in order to negotiate a strong position in a future coalition government with PO.

5. The attempts by splinter parties from PiS and PO are unlikely to cross the 5% threshold needed to enter parliament. 'Poland is the Most Important Party' (PJN - I know they really have kept this name!) and the Palikot Movement are running high profile and well funded election campaigns but have so-far been unable to make any real impression in the opinion polls.

With the summer recess over, Beyond The Transition will be following and analysing the elections over the next few weeks. Keep tuned folks.

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