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Poland - General Elections and Senatorial Elections

Outgoing Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform en route for a second term in office?

Outgoing Prime Minister Donald Tusk's Civic Platform en route for a second term in office?

12/09/2011 - Analysis

More than 30 million Poles are being called to ballot on 9th October next to renew the entire parliament, i.e. 460 members of the Diet (Sejm) and the 100 members of the Senate. A special fact in this election: they will be taking place whilst Warsaw is ensuring the presidency o f the Council of the Ministers of the European Union. It was decided that whatever the election result, the present government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk (Civic Platform, PO) will chair the Ministers Council of the EU until 31st December 2011. It will only be possible to form the next government late on, for example at the beginning or in mid-December, since the parliament that emerges after the election will meet before mid-November.
The Civic Platform, the party in office since the last elections on 21st October 2007, seems to be set to win the election on 9th October. One question remains however: what lead will it have over its competitors? How comfortable will this be?
Law and Justice (PiS), the main opposition party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has said it wanted the elections to take place over two days in order to boost turnout that is traditionally low in Poland. The Constitutional Court opposed this, recalling that the Constitution stipulated that the election absolutely had to take place on a holiday or weekend. The electoral campaign is due to be short.

The Polish 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 two chambers meet in the National Assembly (Zgromadzenie Narodowe) on three occasions only: when the President of the Republic takes oath, when the latter is being prosecuted by the State Court and when the Head of State is unable to exercise power due to health problems.
The general elections usually take place every 4 years by proportional representation according to the Hondt system. All political parties, except the lists representing national minorities, have to win at least 5% of the votes cast to be represented in the Diet (8% for a coalition). Poland is divided into 41 constituencies in the general elections, which each elect between 7 and 19 MPs. Senators are also elected every 4 years, on the same day as the general election. For the Senatorial elections Poland is divided into 40 constituencies, which each elect between 2 and 4 Senators by simple majority. Every candidate standing for a Senatorial seat has to have the support of at least 3000 voters in his constituency (5,000 for candidates running for a seat in the Diet).

Candidates have to be aged at least 21 in order to accede to the position of MP and 30 to become a Senator. The parties and groups comprising at least 15 citizens are allowed to put lists forward in the general elections. Finally candidates are not allowed to compete both in the general and senatorial elections.

4 political parties are represented in the Diet at present:
-Civic Platform (PO), of which Prime Minister Donald Tusk has been the chair since 2003. Created in March 2001 it has 209 seats;
– Law and Justice (PiS), an opposition party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Founded on 13th June 2001, the party supports State control, is liberal, conservative and greatly attached to Poland's Catholic identity – it is eurosceptic and has 166 MPs;
– Left and Democrats (LiD), created on 3rd September 2006, it rallies the former members of the Democratic Party (PD), the Social Democratic Party (SDPL), the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Labour Union (UP); it has 53 seats;
– the People's Party (PSL), a centrist, agrarian party, a member of the government coalition. It is the oldest political party in Poland (created in 1895), it also has the most members (around 120,000). Chaired by former Prime Minister (1992 and 1993-1995) and outgoing Economy Minister, Waldemar Pawlak, it has 31 seats.
The German minority also has one MP (Ryszard Galla, MP in the district of Opole).

Only two parties, the PO and the PiS are represented in the Senate. They respectively have 60 and 39 seats. One Senator is registered as an independent.

7 political parties are running in the parliamentary elections on 9th October: Civic Platform, Law and Justice, Democratic Left Alliance, the People's Party, Poland First (Polska jest Najwazniejsza, PJN), a party founded in November 2010 by former members of the liberal branch of the PiS, led by Pawel Kowal (the party takes its name from the slogan that Jaroslaw Kaczynski used in the last presidential election), the Palikot Movement (RPP), an anti-clerical party, founded in June 2011 by Janusz Palikot, former Member of the PO, and the Labour Party (PPP), a far left party led by Boguslaw Zietek.
Janusz Korwin-Mikke's New Right (NP) and the Right of the Republic of Poland (Prawica RP) led by Marek Jurek did not succeed in collating enough signatures. According to political analysts, the absence of these two parties will be to the benefit of the PiS.

The Civic Platform after Four Years in Office

The Civic Platform is the main political party in Poland. Holding the majority across every region, its candidate Bronislaw Komorowski won the presidential election last year: the former marshall (leader) of the Diet came out ahead of Jaroslaw Kaczynski (PiS) on 4th July, taking 53.01% of the vote, 46.99% going to his rival. The presidential election came early after the accidental death of the previous head of State, Lech Kaczynski (PiS) and 95 other people in a plane crash, as they were travelling to Petchorsk in the region of Smolensk (Russia) on 10th April 2010. The presidential delegation was travelling to Katyn to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the execution of 22, 000 Polish officers by the Soviet secret services.
On 5th December 2010 the Civic Platform (PO) won the regional, provincial and local elections. The party won 10 of the 16 voïvodies (regions), taking 222 seats, against 141 for the PiS, 93 for the People's Party and 85 for the Democratic Left Alliance within the regional councils. The PO also won 1,315 seats in the provincial councils and 600 local councillors' seats. The PiS won 1,085 provincial councillors' seats and 365 community councillors' seats, the People's party won 999 and 8, the Democratic Left Alliance, 493 and 214. In the local elections the PO won 39.6% of the vote ahead of the PiS with 25.1%, the People's Party 16.6% and the Democratic Left Alliance 15.1%. The PO was victorious in eight of the ten major towns and in 23 in all across Poland as a whole; the Democratic Left Alliance won in 8 towns and the PiS in five. The PO retained Warsaw where the outgoing Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Wlatz won in the first round with 53.67% of the vote. The party in office also won the towns of Lodz, Gdansk and Lublin.

On 9th October the Civic Platform may become the first party to win the parliamentary elections twice running since the collapse of the communist system in 1989. Outgoing Prime Minister Donald Tusk is the second head of government (with the present President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, Prime Minister between 1997 and 2001) to have completed his 4 year term in office. The past few years have comprised a break in a rushed decade in which there were several political scandals and a great amount of tension between parties and also between politicians. Donald Tusk has also managed to give Poland the image of a moderate, conciliatory nation. He has clearly improved his country's relations with its German and Russian neighbours. "There have been some mistakes but the Poles are mainly satisfied. The electorate wants, more or less, for things to continue this way: they are asking for stability and improvements in their living standards," declared Pavel Swieboda, director of the think tank Demos Europa.

At present the Civic Platform is trying to show that the main split in the Polish political landscape is between it and the PiS. The PO is suffering from not having any real opposition and is attempting to demonise Jaroslaw Kaczynski's party, playing on the fear that its possible return to power might cause. The PO will probably need a partner to form the next government coalition after the election on 9th October. According to some political analysts the party hopes to put an end to its alliance with the People's Party. Moreover it is giving increasing signs of opening to positions on the left, notably with regard to the Democratic Left Alliance led by Grzegorz Napieralski ¬, with whom it is trying not to quibble with.

Bartosz Arlukowicz, a member of the Democratic Left Alliance and MP joined the government in which he was appointed Secretary of State for Social Exclusion. Economist Dariusz Rosati, former Foreign Minister (1995-1997) in the governments led by Jozef Oleksy (SLD) (1995-1996) and Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz (SLD) (1996-1997) and former MEP (2004-2009), have also drawn closer to the PO. The leader of the Senate Bogdan Borusewicz has also formalised his relations with the ruling party. Director of the think tank, Unia & Polska, Krzysztof Bobinski, is convinced that the popularity of Bartosz Arlukowicz will be to the benefit of Donald Tusk. Some PO members, including the leader of the Diet (leader of the lower chamber) Grzegorz Schetyna, would like the latter to be more open to the other end of the political scale, such as "It is Poland that is important" (PJN).
According to political observers, six of the 18 outgoing government ministers are due to retain their positions in the event of victory by PO. These are Jacek Rostowski, Finance Minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, Foreign Miniser, Michal Boni, Chief economic advisor, Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, Justice Minister, Ewa Kudrycka, Science Minister and Cezary Grabaczyk, Infrastructure Minister.

The PO regularly points to the fact that Poland is the only EU country not to have experienced recession after the international economic crisis that started in the autumn of 2008. In 2009, Warsaw witnessed growth of 1.7% in its GDP. According to the latest statistics, growth is due to reach 4% in 2012. During Donald Tusk's term in office salaries have increased, unemployment has plummeted, which has led to a rise in fiscal revenues. The PO also increased taxes, modified the retirement system and part nationalised the social insurance sector.
However the PO knows that it will not just be able to rely on its economic results to retain power. The modernisation of infrastructures has been delayed and many reforms (notably those concerning the healthcare system, public finance and the simplification of the administrative system for businesses and private parties) are not moving forward. State spending is too high, which has led to a rise in the public deficit totalling 7.9% in 2010. Prime Minister Tusk does like to recall that Poland enjoys an enviable economic position and that the state of public finance is fine in comparison with that of other European States.

In the elections on 9th October the PO is promoting the following themes: a flexible State, (service providers), solidarity in society, competitive scientific research and the development of intelligence. The government hopes to bring in a reform designed to balance public finances and improve the country's management. This would mean new security levers banning the programming of major budgetary spending when the public debt is over 52% of the national GDP (it lies at 47.4% at present).
The Polish government needs 60 billion zlotys (nearly 15 billion €) and has to make cuts in social spending, the most radical since Poland's return to democracy in 1989. The 2012 budget will not be voted on in parliament until after the election.

Opposition on the Left, but especially on the Right

Law and Justice (PiS), which rejoiced when it saw the gap separating it from the PO decrease in the local elections on 21st November and 5th December 2010, is trying to rally the Poles on sensitive issues. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has already broken with the moderate, conciliatory tone he had adopted during his campaign for the presidential election on 20th June and 4th July 2010, taking up his former aggressiveness, accusing Donald Tusk's government, which was responsible for the Head of State's security, of being responsible for the tragic accident involving his twin brother, Lech. The PiS leader even said that the Head of State and the government leader should leave the Polish political arena.
According to the conclusions of a government report published at the end of July the causes of the deadly plane crash that led to the death of the Polish President in 2010, were the inexperience of the pilot and lax security measures. Prime Minister Donald Tusk reacted rapidly in response to this report by dismissing three generals and 10 air force officers. Defence Minister Bogdan Klich (PO) resigned from office and was replaced by Tomasz Siemoniak (PO).

Jaroslaw Kaczynski says he is ready to modernise the State whilst respecting the Polish culture, traditions and values. He accuses Donald Tusk of wanting to transform Poland into a "Russian-German condominium". He says he supports greater firmness in relations between Warsaw and Moscow, Berlin and also Paris. These declarations do not find much echo within the population however. Jaroslaw Kaczynski plans to increase taxes on banks and hypermarkets and also on the wealthiest Poles to improve the public finance situation. Tomasz Poreba will be the PiS's campaign director.

The results achieved by the Farmers' Party in the last local elections on 21st November and 5th December 2010 surprised political analysts and even left its leader, Waldemar Pawlak, "speechless"" - as he said himself. "This proves that we are a major partner for the government, much more important that anyone thought before these local elections," he said. According to sociologist, Fils Jaroslaw, the Farmers' Party's result on 9th October next will greatly depend on the commitment of its local representatives.

On 26th August last outgoing Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Waldemar Pawlak were the only two politicians to take part in the first TV debate in the electoral campaign. The absence of the PiS leader and of Grzegorz Napieralski, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance intimates that both the left and rightwing opposition do not believe in their victory.

As the elections approach the political scene seems to be polarizing. According to latest poll by GFK Polonia, published by the daily Rzeczpospolita, the PO is due to win 47% of the vote, the PiS 29% ; the Democratic Left Alliance, 13% and the People's Party 4%. According to a poll by Homo homini, published in the newspaper, Super Express, the PO is due to win one third of the vote (32%), the PiS, one quarter (24%), the Democratic Left Alliance, 12%, and the People's Party 7%.
Turnout will be a key factor in the elections on 9th October next.

Source : Internet Site of the National Electoral Committee
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Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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