24/09/2007 - Analysis
After several months of political crisis, the Polish Parliament decided to dissolve on 7th September. The Constitution requires the vote of a 2/3 majority of the members of the Diet, i.e. 307 out of 460 representatives. 377 MPs voted in favour of dissolution, versus 54 against and 20 abstentions. The dissolution of the Diet automatically leads to that of the Senate. The government then has 45 days to organise general and senatorial elections. Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski (Law and Justice, PiS), decided that these would take place on 21st October. More than 30 million voters will then renew the 460 members of the Diet and the 100 members of the Senate. "I should like to say how pleased I am that Parliament has decided to dissolve. The elections will offer the Poles a chance to decide whether they want to continue on the road of transition or whether they want to continue according to the laws of the oligarchy," declared the Prime Minister.
The Political System
The Parliament is bicameral and comprises the Diet (Sjem), the lower chamber that has 460 MPs and the Senate, the upper chamber with 100 members. The general elections usually take place every four years by proportional representation according to the Hondt system. Any political party, except the lists representing national minorities, has to win at least 5% of the votes cast to be represented in the Diet (8% for a coalition). The Senate is also elected every four years by proportional representation, on the same day as the general election. In both elections, Poland is divided into 40 constituencies. Candidates have to be aged at least 21 in order to accede to the position of MP and 30 to become a Senator.
6 political parties are represented in the Diet at the moment:
- Law and Justice (PiS) led by the President of the Republic Lech Kaczynski and his brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Founded on 13th June 2001 PiS is both a partisan of State control and is liberal; it has 155 MPs;
- Civic Platform (PO), a liberal opposition party created in March 2002 that rallies the former members of the Freedom Union and Electoral Solidarity Action (AWS). It has 133 seats;
- Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) created in 1999 based on the merger of several social democrat parties; it has been chaired since June 2005 by former Agriculture Minister Wojciech Olejniczak. Some of its members are from the former Unified Workers Party (POUP). It has 55 MPs;
- Self-Defence–Samoobrona (SO) is a populist far right party founded in 1992 and led by Andrzej Lepper. The party was a member of the government led by Law and Justice until August last; it has 53 seats;
- the League of Polish Families (LPR), has been led since 30th May 2001 by Roman Giertych; it is a populist far right movement, it is against Poland's integration into the EU and is a member of the government led by Law and Justice; it has 34 MPs.
- the Popular Party (PSL) represents the interests of the farmers. It is the oldest of the political parties (dating back to 1895) and has the greatest number of members (120,000). Its chair is former Prime Minister (1992 and 1993-1995) Waldemar Pawlak. It has 25 seats.
Issues at stake in the General and Senatorial Elections
It was in Law and Justice (PiS) interests to hold the general and senatorial elections early. Firstly the repeated political crisis that Poland has experienced over the last few months has made the country ungovernable. Then the opposition threatened to convene a committee to look into the activities of the Anti-Corruption Bureau within the Agriculture Ministry. The Central Anti-Corruption Bureau is a structure established by the government in June 2006; it is responsible in the fight against corruption. The Bureau comprises 600 civil servants mainly from the Auditors' Court, the police, customs, and the secret services. The Prime Minister appoints its director. "Costly, too powerful, pointless, purely political," these are the words used to describe the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau by sociologist Grzegorz Makowski.
On 8th August last Interior Minister Januz Kaczmarek (PiS) was dismissed from government accused of having caused the failure of an anti-corruption operation against the party Self-Defence-Samoobrona. It is suspected that the Minister revealed State secrets to one of Poland's richest businessmen, Ryszard Krauze. He was arrested on 30th August (as was Konrad Kornatowski, former police chief and Jaromil Netzel, chairman of the biggest insurance group PZU) for obstructing the inquiry into leaks that compromised the Bureau's activities at the Agriculture Ministry and for bearing false witness. After having pleaded not guilty and refusing to be a witness, Januz Kaczmarek was released on bail the following day.
The former minister is now accusing the government of which he was a member of abuse of power and "totalitarian methods." At a parliamentary hearing he maintained that Agriculture Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, recorded journalists' telephone conversations and that the police services often investigated opposition members whose phones were also tapped, notably former President of the Republic (1995-2000), Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lech Walesa's son, Jaroslaw Walesa MP (PO). Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski denied all of these accusations outright.
Although the date of the general and senatorial elections was only revealed on 7th September the day of the Diet's dissolution, the electoral campaign started several weeks prior to that in fact. During its two years in power the government led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski has found it increasingly difficult to remain in office since there has been constant tension and disagreements between the various components that make up the government team. Between September 2005 and September 2007 Law and Justice (PiS) governed either in the minority or as an ally to Self-Defence-Samoobrona and the League of Families.
In 2006 Self-Defence-Samoobrona leader, Andrzej Lepper, was appointed Deputy Prime Minister responsible for Agriculture. The party also took over the portfolio of Employment and Social Affairs. In September 2006, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, appointed Prime Minister two months previously, decided to dismiss Andrzej Lepper, since he was against the draft budget and had said he was against the deployment of Polish troops in Afghanistan. Then a political crisis forced Jaroslaw Kaczynski's government to give in and finally re-appoint Andrzej Lepper in government in October 2006. The latter was again ousted on 9th July since the Prime Minister accused him of being involved in a corruption scandal. On 5th August Self-Defence-Samoobrona said that its party was leaving the parliamentary majority. Eight days later Education Minister, Roman Giertych (LPR), Maritime Economy Minister, Rafal Wiechecki (LPR), Construction Minister, Andrzej Aumiller (SO) and Labour Minister Anna Kalata (SO) were dismissed after Jaroslaw Kaczynski's government had found itself in the minority in the wake of the collapse of the electoral alliance.
On 21st October the two main political parties, leaders since 2000 will face each other: the Civic Platform, a liberal movement and Law and Justice (the latter has been in power for the last two years, and is a party that supports the sovereignty of a strong Social State). Although the two parties are in favour of a liberal economy, they disagree on major issues for example healthcare and taxation. "Europe is wrong to believe that Law and Justice is a rightwing party. Of course on a moral level, in its hate of homosexuality, its opposition to abortion – it is indeed extremely conservative. But its economic policy, its mistrust of Europe, its protectionism, its leanings towards a paternalist State are in no means liberal" says political analyst, Pawel Wronski.
The Electoral Campaign
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski is very proud of his government's results: 6% GDP growth and an unemployment rate of 12% (in comparison with 17% in September 2005). The news announcing that the infra-national administrative bodies - voïvodies (provinces), powiaties (districts) and municipalities – had produced a surplus of 11.3 billion zlotys whereas a 6 billion deficit had been forecast is a confirmation that the country is in good economic health. Although this is certainly a reality it remains that, according to a number of economists, over the past two years Poland has missed out on various chances that have arisen thanks to its economic growth. The government failed to reform public finance and to establish the vital changes to retirement pensions; it also failed in the re-organisation of the healthcare system, which is outmoded (it has not been reformed since the fall of Communism). The national debt has increased by 60 billion zlotys in two years and State spending has risen by 13.7%. Finally and contrary to the promises made by the PiS before the last general and senatorial elections there has not been any reduction in taxes.
However, in August the Prime Minister accepted the request made by Solidarity and announced that if it won on 21st October it would raise the minimum salary in 2008 from the present 899 zlotys to 1,126 zlotys. This measure was criticised by Finance Minister, Zyta Gilowska and Economy Minister, Piotr Wozniak who believe that this increase will damage small companies notably those established in rural areas – it will also play against unqualified workers and young people who comprise a major part of the unemployed. Jaroslaw Kaczynski promised to increase civil servants' salaries by 9.3 points in 2008 and said that he would not modify the law governing retirement pensions for a year.
The Prime Minister always talks of "a strong State able to fight corruption and other sicknesses connected with Communism," and calls for "social solidarity". "Our whole programme is dedicated to the best way of combining economic growth with social justice," he repeats adding "Poland must not be a country for the rich."
The PiS again placed the fight against corruption and criminality at the heart of its electoral campaign, a strategy that was particularly successful in the last general and senatorial elections on 25th September 2005. On 15th September in Krakow Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, presented the successes achieved by the government in the fight against corruption and crime maintaining that the latter had decreased by 16% between 2005 and 2007, and the former by 100%. Over the last two years the Kaczynski brothers also decided to purify Poland by looking into the past of over 700,000 Poles who were under suspicion of having had links with the Communist regime. However "the publication of Communist archives were reported after the general and senatorial elections," said the manager of the Institute for National Remembrance, Janusz Kustyka on 21st September adding: "No data with regard to those involved in present politics will be published before the elections so that the Institute for National Remembrance cannot be accused of having taken part in the electoral campaign in any way."
National security is also the other focal point of the PiS's political action. The Prime Minister has made attacking Germany and its leaders his speciality, blaming them for all of Poland's problems. On a European level Poland quarrelled with its German partner over privatisation, environmental issues and over the European Constitution and then over the simplified European treaty. The government also criticised the links uniting the German government with Russia, notably with regard to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's decision (Social Democrat Party SPD) to build a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea. A few months ago Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga again accused the German press of "starting a massive attack against Poland." Finally the Prime Minister went as far as saying during a discussion on the voting system applied in the EU last June in Brussels that the Polish population would be twice as big today if the Nazi Germans had not killed as many Poles during the Second World War.
"The Kaczynski brothers play on anti-German feelings for domestic political reasons. Their anti-German policy is clearly in contradiction with the relations entertained between the two countries. Surveys show that the Poles feel increasingly positive about the German," maintains Beata Ociepka, political analyst at the University of Wroclaw. Indeed a poll undertaken by GfK Polonia, published on 14th September in the daily Rzeczpospolita, reveals that half of the Poles (50%) believe that the anti-German rhetoric is bad for the PiS's image. The party accuses the opposition "which harms Poland greatly and only represents the oligarchs," notably the Civic Platform, "of being dependent on Germany and of accepting German domination." It accuses the opposition of being part of a conspiracy that rallies the former Communists, executives and the liberals who want to act against Poland's interests. "The Kaczynski brothers are convinced that they alone are right, that all of the others are enemies and there can never be any compromise. They have good ideas but their approach to politics is completely personal," analyses Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, director of the Institute for Public Affairs. "Their main error was to transform politics into a permanent civil war," analyses political analyst Aleksander Smolar.
The opposition denounces the PiS's broken promises such as the 3 million social flats that still have not been built, the unaccomplished reform of the public finance and the reduction in taxes, the catastrophic management of the healthcare system and Poland's humiliation in the international arena. However although most of the voters belonging to the most affluent socio-professional categories have turned away from the PiS, this is not the case with the entire electorate which still seems receptive to the Kaczynski brother's programme. "Law and Justice voters care nothing for democracy. Breaking laws to achieve objectives is not considered a crime since when they came to power two years ago, corruption was omnipresent," maintains Jadwiga Staniszkis, sociologist from the University of Warsaw. "Law and Justice's advantage is the loyalty of those who felt excluded after the changes that occurred when Communism came to an end: the retired and all of those who primarily voted for the left and then the right and the PiS has not disappointed them," stresses Kazimierz Kik, analyst at the Political Science Institute in Kielce. "Over the last few years we have experienced major problems: "most of the media is against the government and the insults and the attacks against us have been endless. The electoral campaign has given us an opportunity to communicate with people and to address public opinion," says Jaroslaw Kaczynski particularly confident of his party's results on 21st October.
Civic Platform officially started its campaign on 15th September last in Gniezno, Poland's historical capital. Donald Tusk, Lech Kaczynski's unfortunate rival in the presidential election on 9th and 23rd October 2005 (45.53% of the vote in the second round), accuses the Kaczynski brothers of "having betrayed voters and humiliated Poland in the international arena." The PO also accuses the PiS of having divided the Poles in the two years it has been in power. Donald Tusk has promised that this electoral campaign will be "a major battle". "The battle to come will not be between political parties or ambitious politicians. It is a question of choice in civilisation: for or against western civilisation," he maintained mid-September. The PO is trying to convince the Poles that another term in office with the PiS would be extremely damaging to Poland.
The main opposition party took a heavy blow when Jan Rokita, the candidate running for Prime Minister in the elections on 25th September 2005 and forecast to face Justice Minister Zbigniew Zioboro in the constituency of Krakow decided to retire from political life. His wife Nelly accepted an appointment as Women's Affairs Counsellor with the President of the Republic Lech Kaczynski. "My wife gave up everything for my political career for many years. Today it is my turn to withdraw and make a sacrifice for her," said Jan Rokita who was replaced on the PO lists by Senator Jaroslaw Gowin. Many political observers believe (as 69% of Poles interviewed in an opinion poll) that the withdrawal of Jan Rokita cannot be taken seriously. Many say that he believes that his capabilities are not really acknowledged within his party and that he has been set alienated by Donald Tusk. His wife's appointment is therefore the event he needed to free himself. Although he says that the PO has his support (and his future vote) and since he cannot allow himself to appear to be the root of a possible defeat for which Donald Tusk will be blamed, Jan Rokita might, if his party wins, encourage several PO members to break away and start a new more rightwing movement. This might even lead to an alliance with the PiS in order to enter government. Even if it came out ahead on the evening of 21st October the PO would not be able to govern alone and would then have to turn to the PiS or the Left and Democracy, a leftwing party created in 2006, that lies in third place at present in the polls. The last possibility seems the most likely but might be dangerous since it will certainly lead to a split in the liberal party.
Recently several PiS members joined the PO. Former Defence Minister (2005-February 2007) and head of the National Security Council, Radoslaw Sikorski, will run in Bydgoszcz. "I must sadly admit that Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has disappointed me," he said after being dismissed from his position as head of the National Security Council on 18th September. Antoni Mezydlo also chose to join the PO and will be the leading candidate in Torun. He stressed that he decided to leave the PiS when he saw that the party had drawn closer to Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, director of Radio Maryja. "When I joined the PiS I did not join Father Tadeusz Rydzyk's party," he indicated. The irony of the situation is that in Torun Antoni Mezydlo will be running against Anna Sobecka, former presenter on Radio Maryja, the PiS candidate in this constituency. Finally Bogdan Borusewicz, the Senate's spokesperson, joined the PO's electoral lists in the race for a senator's seat for the party in Gdansk. Bogdan Borusewicz, who was elected on 25th September 2005 with the support of the PO and the PiS, has therefore decided to move away from the latter whom he also accuses of having formed an alliance with Radio Maryja. The PiS's trend towards the far right did not please him either.
"It is an honour for me not only to represent the democratic opposition to the Communists but also to represent all of those who emanate from the pre-1989 leftwing," maintains former President of the Republic Aleksander Kwasniewski, leader of Left and Democracy (LiD). This party, created in 2006, rallies the former members of the Democrat Party (PD), the Social Democrat Party (SDPL) and the Labour Union (UP). It stands as the only party able to beat the PiS. "Left and Democracy rises beyond historical divisions and provides an answer to the serious political crisis that Poland has being going through since 1989," says Aleksander Kwasniewski.
The former President has thrown the spotlight on a major problem in Poland: the emigration of a great number of its citizens. According to Aleksander Kwasniewski the early general and senatorial elections will lead to a new wave of emigration. "We are living a tragic-comedy. If you live in a malevolent atmosphere and you cannot think, act or live freely then you leave. Today two million young Poles are living abroad, their number is about to grow again. With the Kaczynskis Poland no longer stands a chance of taking advantage of all the opportunities offered to it by the European Union," maintained the former Head of State. The theme of emigration was also mentioned by Donald Tusk who exhorted the Poles "to take their children to vote, "otherwise in a week or in a month they will also have left the country." Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski also referred to this saying on 20th September that he would convene a new government committee whose work it would be to fight against emigration estimated at around 1.2 million Poles. The government is promising to organise employment conferences and to increase the links between Polish educational establishments and foreign universities.
Former Prime Minister of the Democratic Left Alliance (2001-2004), Leszek Miller left his party on 15th September after being taken off of the list put forward by the party in Lodz. He will finally run on the list presented by Self-Defence-Samoobrona in the same constituency where he will face the Democratic Left Alliance leader, former Agriculture Minister Wojcieh Olejniczak. Leszek Miller, whose name goes hand in hand with several scandals which marked the government led by the Democratic Left Alliance, did however maintain that he was not joining the populist movement but intended to create his own party, the Polish Left (PL) which would rally everyone "who was not interested by the present left," which he qualifies "timid and dependent." "I want to build up a party that will not constantly apologise for the Popular Republic of Poland," he said.
The League of Families will present joint lists with the Law of the Republic of Poland (PR) in the upcoming elections. The latter was formed by Marek Jurek, former spokesperson at the Diet, and the Union for True Politics (UPR). The League of Families is trying to prove that it is the only rightwing party in Poland, the Popular Party stands as a party of consensus and compromise.
At the end of August on the 27th anniversary of Solidarity, former Foreign Minister, Bronislaw Geremek, former President of the Republic (1990-1995) Lech Walesa, and former Prime Minister (1989-1991), Tadeusz Mazowiecki published "The Gdansk Declaration 2007". "The present situation requires major changes. It is vital to throw light on the events that have taken place over the last few months. General and senatorial elections are necessary," they wrote. "The slander and fighting have destroyed citizen confidence in politics, the authorities, and the institutions. Instead of ensuring that the law was applied, the latter have become instruments in the hands of those in power. Serious evidence shows that these institutions have been used against the citizens. The Polish political arena has to be cleaned up and the filth has to be removed, along with the hate and obstinacy. A new generation must be given a chance." So reads the Gdansk Declaration 2007. The editor in chief of the daily Gazeta Wyborca, Adam Michnick, wrote on 31st August that the Kaczynski brothers "have crossed the Rubicon line that separates democratic law from a flagrant coup-d'état." Finally Lech Walesa maintains that the Kaczynski brothers' behaviour "emanates from the Stalinian past". "They do everything they can to retain power and destroy their adversaries, " maintains the former President.
PO, which was ahead in the polls for a long time, is now threatened by the PiS. According to a poll published on 17th September in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, the PO would win the general and senatorial elections on 21st October with 30% of the vote, followed closely by the PiS which is due to win 29% of the vote. Left and Democracy are due to win 12% of the vote. All of the other parties are forecast to remain below the 5% threshold necessary to be represented in the Diet. On 17th September the Study Group (PGB), forecast the PiS in the lead in terms of voting intentions with 35% of the vote, followed by the PO (30%), Left and Democracy (18%), the League of Families (7%) and the Popular Party (5%).
The various polls reveal two things: neither of the main parties will be able to govern alone and Left and Democracy might very well find itself in the position of kingmaker. "PO cannot join forces with the PiS. An alliance with Left and Democracy is not an option either. We cannot accept another term in office for the PiS nor can the PO to join an anti-PiS coalition because that would mean we'd have to govern with Andrzej Lepper and Roman Giertych," said Donald Tusk just a few days ago. For his part, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski maintained on 16th September: "We shall form a grand coalition under the banner of the PiS. I extend my hand to all of those who want to work for the good of Poland."
Self-Defence–Samoobrona and the League of Families (and above all their respective leaders) are battling for their survival on 21st October. Donald Tusk has no other choice but to win the elections otherwise a third defeat (after the general and senatorial elections on 25th September 2005 and the presidential election of 9th and 23rd October the same year) would reduce his personal ambitions (for example to succeed Lech Kaczynski in 2010 as President of the Republic) to nothing. Finally the left wing must show that they are a movement of the future. The weaknesses of the PiS's rivals comprise its own main strengths.
The participation rate will be decisive during these elections which are slowly turning into a referendum over the Kaczynski brothers. "The electorate is extremely unstable. Until recently, it was politically correct to say you were going to vote for the PO because people were very critical of the way the PiS was applying its anti-corruption policy. The Polish voter is quite inconstant. Look at how the left fell from winning 40% in 2001 to 11% in the last elections in 2005," stresses Rafael Trzaskowski, political analysts at the College of Natolin.
Reminder of the General and Senatorial Election Results, 25th September 2005
Participation rate: 40.57%
Participation rate: 40.,56%