Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Mixed Signals of Palikot

With the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) in a seemingly terminal decline, the major political force claiming to represent the left in Poland is now the Palikot Movement (RP). RP has more MPs than the SLD, and since October's parliamentary elections has been a far more pro-active political current in and out of parliament.

Despite its left wing stance on issues such as the relationship between the Church and State and Lesbian and Gay rights, RP had taken an overtly liberal stance on economic issues, such as supporting the introduction of a flat income tax.

However, in recent weeks RP has been making some moves to be seen as a party that represents the economic interests of the poorest sections of society. Primarily this has been done through Palikot forming an alliance with the 'Office of Social Justice' movement (KSS), led by the socialist Piotr Ikonowicz.

The KSS campaigns against poverty and social exclusion in Poland and has been particularly active over the issue of housing evictions. Palikot has donated his own parliamentary salary to the KSS and is promoting it as a social movement to combat poverty in Poland. Furthermore, last weekend a meeting was held between RP MPs and representatives of KSS to discuss joint work over issues such as social security and the labour law.

At the same time, Palikot re-affirmed his commitment to a number of liberal economic policies. In a recent interview he defended the policy of introducing a flat-income tax rate, supported the compulsory private pension system, promoted the privatisation of a large section of the health service and re-affirmed his belief that students should pay for studying on courses (such as humanities) which do not teach the skills needed on the labour market. Furthermore, a document has recently been put up on RP's website that includes support for a flat tax of 18% for VAT and income and business tax. The major 'pro-growth' proposals in this programme are reducing the level of bureaucracy for businesses and liberalising the labour code.

In response to criticisms about this ambiguity, RP's spokesperson Andrzej Rozenek has argued that the left-right divide is archaic and has no meaning in contemporary society. It is interesting that Rozenek was previously considered to be one of the party's leading left-wingers.

RP has also recently announced that in Europe it will cooperate with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). This is the third largest group in parliament and although it currently has no Polish MEPs as members it previously had relations with the neo-liberal Freedom Union and Democratic Party.

It seems that Palikot recognises that there is a space on the left in Poland which he can fill. His secular and cultural liberal programme appeals to voters from the left and statements on poverty and social inequality allow him to extend into other areas of the left electorate. While such developments should be welcomed and one has to wait to see how RP develops (particularly as it has yet to form as an actual political party) its continued support for liberal macro-economic policies and its alliance with liberals in Europe separates it off from the rest of the Polish left.

It seems that RP is moving towards being a social liberal party where statements on social exclusion and poverty can be deployed as populist slogans, yet where its actual economic programme would make them worse.


  1. From his recent speech answering the Premier's somewhat lackluster expose, it is quite clear where Palikot is coming from. He is attacking, with some aplomb, the dead weight of the state/church status quo, which he sees as stifling the social capital that should be forming the basis of economic development. On this he is only singing from the same hymn sheet as so many economically energetic but increasingly frustrated Poles today. As a home-grown answer to a specific problem, he may defy pigeon holing in "left/right" or "conservative/liberal" schemes, but that does not make him any less coherent or credible. As his detractors would perhaps have us believe

  2. Hi Emil, The points you make are valid. The actions you refer to appeal directly to Palikot’s core base – small entrepreneurs, self-employed and the (sometimes wannabe) middle class. This is the potential base for a liberal party in Poland and is perhaps what RP will end up being. However, this is a minority of society and like its counterparts in Europe a liberal party in Poland would end up winning 10% maybe 15% of the vote at most.

    But since the election Palikot has gone further and openly claimed on a number of occasions that he wants to build a new party of the left. If he did this I’d be delighted. However, he would also have to promote an economic programme that would appeal beyond his core base. Now this may be possible and pursuing a strategy of defending low and medium earners against the cuts etc could be popular. I also see no reason why the left could not support measures to make it easier for small businesses and also reducing the tax burden on this social group (e.g through a progressive rate for CiT or ZUS). However, in return RP would have to promote the labour rights of workers, increasing wages, active employment policies, investing in public services, etc.

    At the moment Palikot wants it both ways – i.e. lowering taxes for all and increasing social expenditures. It is for this reason I’d still call him a liberal populists. But things can change

  3. Populist liberals? Perhaps, but I see interesting similarities to the old Whigs.

  4. Hmm, how much good evidence is there of social/electoral base of RP?

  5. The research agency CBOS has recently published a report on this question, although it is not yet available on line. It will be soon and you will find it here: http://www.cbos.pl/EN/publications/reports_2011.php

    The summaries I've read of it show that Palikot won the most support amongst youth (20% of all the youth electorate) young people studying (27%). They also won large votes from people who only take part in religious activities occasionally (17%) and from people living in large cities (15%).

    Interestingly, the largest occupation groups to vote for them were people working in administration/office jobs and in service work. They also won significant votes from the self-employed and unemployed.


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