12/10/2007 - D-7
Just seven days from the early general and senatorial elections convened by President Lech Kaczynski on 7th September last the ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS) is side by side in the opinion polls with the Civic Platform (PO) led by Donald Tusk. The leftwing forces, led by former President of the Republic (1995-2005), Aleksander Kwasniewski, running under the banner of Left and Democracy (LiD), lie far behind the two former parties. The strength of feeling against the Kaczynski brothers, i.e. the mobilisation of voters against the populist parties and the electoral participation rate will be decisive in the election on 21st October.
"We want to win alone and we can do it," repeats the Prime Minister adding, "we shall negotiate with each political party except for Left and Democracy, our most virulent rival." On 25th September last PiS published a report on its government activities since September 2005. The report highlights the fact that Poland has one of the highest growth levels in Europe and that unemployment has decreased significantly over the last two years (11.7% in September in comparison with 17% September 2005). Donald Tusk, the Civic Platform leader qualified the PiS report as "a mixture of lies and propaganda."
The Prime Minister defends his government's policy which is based on protecting the poorest and also on the position Poland occupies in the international arena. "We reject any type of policy that focuses on elites. We are building democracy. The Poles want equality, real equality and not just simply a theory set down on paper," he maintained.
Polish version of the text available in PDF
On 5th October the President of the Republic, Lech Kaczynski approved a law granting tax rebates (of 1145 zlotys, i.e. 430 euro) to families with children. Until now this rebate totalled around 120 zlotys (45 euros) per child. Finance Minister Zyta Gilowska criticised this new measure saying that it would cost the country 6.5 billion zlotys (2.4 billion euros) and that it would benefit the richest families in the main.
"A recent poll shows that the Jaroslaw Kaczynski's government scores badly in terms of foreign policy but it is appreciated however for its fight against corruption and crime as well for its economic results," says Lena Kolarska-Bobinska, director the Institute for Public Affairs. "The PiS remains credible in its fight against corruption and also as a party that is working for those who are excluded, i.e. those who lost everything in the economic transition," maintains Krzysztof Bobinski, director of the newspaper Unia & Polska. "The PiS wants to build a State the PO a civil society. Both parties are extremely different. The PiS has succeeded in bring together extremely heterogeneous elements of society: the excluded, those who believe in sovereignty as in the 19th century, the nationalists, the populists, the fundamentalists. It is a special mixture but which is united by one thing only: the same definition of the enemy," says Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski, chairman of Collegium Civitas.
The PO rallies urban, educated and pro-European voters. A poll undertaken at the end of September by GfK Polonia reveals that Donald Tusk has a 38% positive opinion score in Warsaw versus 19% only for Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Less than a year ago (November 2006), the former chairman of the Central Bank of Poland and deputy chair of the European Bank for Investment and Development, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz (PO) became mayor of Warsaw winning 53.18% of the vote in the second round in comparison with 46.82% for former Prime Minister (November 2005-14th July 2006) Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz (PiS). Leftwing voters were divided since Marek Borowski, the Left and Democracy candidate in the first round (22.45%) joined forces with the liberal candidate in between rounds. Likewise 48% of those aged 18 to 25 say they are going to vote for PO. But the lack of support amongst the rural populations might prove to be a real handicap in a country where one third of the population lives in the country, and where the rural electorate is the most motivated. PO suffers from the fact that the majority of voters are disinterested in the European Union and international policy and that these themes bear no influence in the way they vote.
The Civic Platform, lying centre-right on the political scale, but which also wins over votes from the left, hopes to liberalise the economy by making State dominated sectors more competitive; it also hopes to continue the programme of privatisation. It would like to establish company tax. Finally PO wants to make the euro its economic priority and has set the introduction of the single currency into Poland in 2012 as its objective.
Recently PO and Left and Democracy (LiD) presented a public/private funding project for the construction of roads and motorways. If it wins the elections Donald Tusk's party plans to establish the following finance plan: the State would pay one third of the construction costs, 40% would be settled by the EU's structural funds and private players would cover the rest of the expenditure. The PO wants to build a motorway linking Warsaw, Lodz and Wroclaw.
Donald Tusk maintained that if he won he wanted to form a grand coalition with several other political parties. "After the general and senatorial elections I shall invite the Law and Justice, Left and Democracy and the Popular Party representatives to discussions with a view to forming a coalition," he declared on 2nd October. According to some members of his party, Donald Tusk has also said that he would resign if he lost on 21st October.
PO can flatter itself on having the support of Lech Walesa, former President of the Republic (1990-1995) who said on 1st October: "Of course I support Waldemar Pawlak and his party, the Popular Party but I shall vote for the Civic Platform." The former Solidarnosc leader says he is convinced that more early general elections will take place within a year "because there will be no solution this time round." In his opinion PO and PiS will not form a coalition after the elections: "I do not believe it possible to co-operate with the Kaczynski brothers," he maintained. Finally in his book entitled 'My Third Republic: How I lost my patience,' Lech Walesa writes: "I travel the world and I am ashamed of what is happening in my country. I cannot stand the ridicule suffered by Poland in the international arena and that the intolerance and complexes of the governing team condemns the country to isolation."
On 29th September last PO received the support of former Foreign Minister (March/December 1995 et 2000-2001), Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, who declared during a party convention in Krakow "Poland needs a government that respects others and not people full of hate. The train called Europe is already running. We cannot afford to waste Poland's chances as it is doing at the moment."
The main opposition party hopes to mobilise the two million Poles who live abroad and whose average age is 26. Polls which provide a short gap between the PiS and PO recall the Italian elections on 9th and 10th April 2006 when the vote of Italians living abroad tipped the balance in favour of Romano Prodi and caused the fall of Silvio Berlusconi's government.
On 29th and 20th September Donald Tusk travelled to the UK and Ireland where 1.2 million Poles are living at present and including in his opinion "many university graduates who have ended up working in supermarkets or the building trade because they could not live decently in Poland." "I cannot ask you to come back because I know you cannot do this as long as we have a government such as this one. But our votes can change things," he stressed in Dublin maintaining that an alliance with the Popular Party seemed the best coalition possible. Aleksander Kwasniewski travelled to the USA and Wojciech Olejniczak, the Left and Democracy leader, went to Germany. Finally the PiS which made a TV advert designed for Poles living abroad says that it wants to guarantee Polish education abroad both for expatriates and their children. Poles living abroad vote in the constituency of Warsaw. Few of them fulfilled their civic duty in the elections that took place on 25th September 2005. This year many polling stations will be available to them in order to achieve the highest possible participation rate. 10,000 Poles are already on the electoral rolls in the UK, whereas there were only 1000 two years ago.
Left and Democracy (LiD) is trying to mobilise a leftwing electorate that was rather passive in the last elections. Wojciech Olejniczcak's party that lies third in all polls is quite likely to find itself in the position of kingmaker. For the time being the party is refusing to discuss coalitions. "Left and Democracy will co-operate with the other parties on subjects which are important to the country but will only start negotiations for a coalition after the election," repeats Aleksander Kwasniewski. Wojciech Olejniczak qualified Donald Tusk's proposal of creating a grand coalition with several other parties as a "trap".
According to the polls Self-Defence of the Republic–Samoobrona appears to have benefited from the former Prime Minister of the Democratic Left Alliance, Leszek Miller joining them. However the latter plans to create a new political party.
The family is still the focal point of the Rightwing League of the Republic of Poland that rallies the League of Families (LPR), the Law of the Republic of Poland (PR) and the Union for Real Politics (UPR). "We want to put forward a fiscal plan for families living in rural areas. We also want to reduce pensioners' and company taxes," indicates the electoral programme which includes 23 priorities. The party published a report which shows the previous electoral promises that have not been honoured by the PiS in the last term in office.
"There will not be a government without the Popular Party," maintains the chair of this party's parliamentary group, Janusz Piechocinski. The peasants' party was the source of surprise in the regional and local elections on 12th and 26th November last when they came third in cantons with 11.51% of the vote (ahead of the LiD) and 4th in the regions (13.24% of the vote) and in the municipal elections (7.41%). Disappointed by Self-Defence-Samoobrona and the League of Families, Poles living in rural areas seem to be turning to the Popular Party. Its leader Waldemar Pawlak presented his programme that was based on three major themes: a more active society, effective institutions and an innovative economy. The party would like to encourage people to train all of their lives thanks to a decrease in taxes, to support employment locally and to promote new forms of employment.
On 1st October Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Aleksander Kwasniewski faced each other during a TV debate broadcast by state and private channels TVN24 and TV Bizes. The two men mutually accused each other of having ruined Poland. After the programme a poll by GfK Polonia for the daily Rzeczpospolita, showed that 53% of viewers thought that Aleksander Kwasniewski had won the debate in comparison with 47% who believed that Jaroslaw Kaczynski dominated his rival.
The Prime Minister said he agreed to debate with Donald Tusk if the latter swore publicly that he would not form an alliance with Left and Democracy after the elections. Bronislaw Komorowski (PO) told the Prime Minister to promise that he would not join forces with Self-Defence and the League of Families. Finally, Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Donald Tusk are due to meet for a debate in the studios on 19th October, two days before the election. Another debate between Donald Tusk and Aleksander Kwasniewski will take place on 15th October.
Officially the Catholic Church does not support any party in the general and senatorial elections. However Archbishop Jozef Michalik, head of the episcopate, asked for a letter to be read out in all of the churches of Poland on 14th October calling on the Poles to fulfil their civic duty on 21st October.
According to a poll by PGS DGA for the daily and published on 9th October last PiS is due to win 36% of the vote, in comparison with 35% for PO. A poll published by Gazeta Wyborcza on October 15th gives 38% of the vote to PO and 37% to PiS. LiD is due to come third with 15% followed by the Popular Party with 6%. Only these four parties will enter the Diet (Sejm), the Lower Chamber in Parliament where every party has to win at least 5% of the votes cast in order to be represented.
A poll by GfK Polonia shows that the parties are consolidating their positions in their traditional strongholds: the PiS in Mazovia and the east, the PO in Pomerania and Silesia and the LiD in the north.
If the PiS joins the opposition benches it will however retain the position of President of the Republic. Although the position is officially but an honorary one in Poland the Head of State still has great influence even if this means exercising the right to veto which the Diet can only reject if it rallies the majority of 3/5 of the vote and the presence of at least half of the elected MPs.
Polish version of the text available in PDF