The rightwing forces win the general and senatorial elections in Poland where the vote was heavily marked by a high abstention rate

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Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy

-

28 September 2005
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Deloy Corinne

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).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

The rightwing victory had been forecast for a long time by the opinion polls and the leftwing parties had already resigned themselves to defeat. The true battle in the general and senatorial elections in Poland was between the country's two main liberal parties, both born of Solidarnosc – these were the Civic Platform (PO) and Law and Justice (PiS).

As planned the right made a landslide victory on Sunday but contrary to forecasts, Law and Justice (PiS) finally came out ahead of the Civic Platform (PO), winning 26.99% of the vote (155 seats) thereby becoming the leading party in the Sjem (Diet), the Lower Chamber of Parliament. The Civic Platform that had been ahead in the polls for a long time came second winning 24.14% of the vote (133 seats). Together these parties have therefore won 285 seats in the Diet i.e. the absolute majority but 23 seats less than a majority of two thirds - vital in order to modify the Constitution.

Autodefence of the Republic (Samoobrona, S), a populist party led by Andrzej Lepper, came third winning 11.41% of the vote (56 seats). The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), in power for four years and worn down by a number of corruption scandals and abuse of power recorded a severe defeat winning only 11.31% of the vote i.e. 40 points less than in the last general elections on 23rd September 2001 (55 seats). The party's new leader, Wojciech Olejniczak, maintained that his party would succeed in being a "constructive party on the benches of the opposition." Finally the Families' League (LPR), led by Roman Giertych, won 7.97% of the vote (34 seats) and the Popular Party (PSL) led by Jaroslaw Kalinowski, 6.96% (25 seats). Outgoing Prime Minister Marek Belka's Democratic Party and the Social Democrat Party (SDPL) did not manage to rise above the 5% threshold necessary to be represented in Parliament.

The other striking event in these general and senatorial elections was the extremely low participation rate: 38% i.e. 8.3 points less than during the previous election four years ago, even though the 25,000 polling stations remained open for 14 hours (from 6am to 8pm). This is the lowest level recorded in Poland since the fall of the Communist system in 1989 and in an EU member country for a national election. Sociologist Lena Kolarska-Bobinska observes that only one Pole in five really went to vote for the two parties that won the parliamentary elections. She also accuses the political community of having intentionally neglected, promoting electoral participation since 1989 for fear of the population rejecting the reforms imposed by the transfer over to a market economy – these reforms would have been painful for a great majority of the Poles. For his part sociologist Edmund Wnuck-Lipinski blames the high abstention rate on "the inherent weakness of political culture in Polish society and the lack of political debate in the country, two elements that do not encourage people to assume their responsibilities and commit themselves". The High Representative for External Policy of the EU, Javier Solana said he regretted the low participation rate blaming this in part on the crisis that Europe is undergoing. "We emerge from this situation behind and lead Europeans to vote. The vote is about taking a decision for the future and it is therefore important that people do vote in a significant manner," he emphasised.

"We won as a party and most importantly we won due to our programme, on a certain idea of Poland and that was to prove decisive," declared Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Law and Justice, as the first results were announced – he added, "We must reconstruct many things in Poland, we have to restore confidence in the State, a value that has been greatly compromised over the last few years."

He immediately claimed the post of Prime Minister in line with the agreement made between his party and the Civic Platform whereby the Prime Minister would be from the party that came out ahead on the evening of 25th September. In the time running up to the election Jan Rokita, the Civic Platform candidate for the position of Prime Minister, had said that the name of the head of government should be made public at the same time as the results, Lech Kaczynski, Jaroslaw's twin brother and the Law and Justice candidate in the presidential election that is to take place on 9th October next, then said that he was against such an announcement. "The government party must not become a factor in the presidential campaign," he emphasised, concerned that he should maintain every possible advantage in the face of Donald Tusk, the Civic Platform candidate who is ahead of him in all the opinion polls.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski did say on several occasions that he would give up the position of Prime Minister if his brother Lech won the presidential election: "If my brother wins I will be obliged to give up any aspiration to the post of Prime Minister. It would not be acceptable for two brothers to occupy the two main positions of State." The conservative party also claimed the position of Finance Minister. "It would be preferable for the post of Finance Minister to go to a member of the same party as the Prime Minister," said Jaroslaw Kaczynski to the daily Rzeczpospolita.

The two parties confirmed Sunday evening that they wanted to form a government coalition. "We have been saying for a long time that we want to form this coalition and there is no reason why it should not be created," maintained the leader of Law and Justice (PiS). Negotiations however might be difficult since both parties have different views on major issues such as taxation for example. They mainly differ on the amount of liberalism that the reforms they want to launch have to entail and how much State intervention to maintain in a Poland whose living standards are twice below the EU average and where the unemployment rate – the highest in EU25 – has reached 17.8% of the working population. The Civic Platform (PO) says that it is in favour of a great amount of deregulation, numerous privatisations and a major reduction in government spending. The Law and Justice programme that is stricter in terms of morals and greatly attached to Christian values includes a bigger social chapter. Hence the party is in favour of maintaining aid for large families and for the poorest as well as the upkeep of a State funded healthcare system.

Both parties have taken a stance against corruption, but PiS is going as far as demanding a purge at the top of the government to evict former Communist leaders. "Law and Justice leans more to the right on issues about society and sovereignty but we are even more conservative in terms of economic measures," said the former governor of the Polish Central Bank and PO member, Hana Gronkiewicz-Waltz. "The Poles want revolution but a quiet one along with stability," analyses sociologist Edmund Wnuck-Lipinski.

Like the German Christian Democrats of the CDU-CSU the Civic Platform result can probably be explained by the unpopular key reform in its programme that is the single rate of 15% on VAT, income tax and company tax. PO leader Jan Rokita, did however maintain on Sunday evening that he wanted to establish this single taxation rate. "We cannot give this up. I cannot give it up." For his part Law and Justice suggests the reduction of the taxation bands to two (18% and 32%) versus the present three (19%, 30% and 40%).

The Catholic Church that is extremely powerful in Poland chose not to interfere in this parliamentary election contenting itself to point out – without really being heard- that citizens should accomplish their duty. For his part the former President of the Republic (1990-1995) Lech Walesa, said he was disappointed with the results achieved by the Civic Platform. "Neither the leaders of Law and Justice, Jaroslaw et Lech Kaczynski, nor their party are capable of rising to the challenge. The Civic Platform would have done better because it has sensible people in its ranks," declared the former Solidarnosc leader.

The battle between the two liberal parties continues however for the presidential election the first round of which will take place on 9th October next. The last poll undertaken on 25th September gives the upper hand to the Civic Platform candidate, Donald Tusk, credited with 45% of the vote versus 33% for the Law and Justice candidate, Lech Kaczynski. The Social Democrat leader (SDPL), Marek Borowski, is due to win 11% of the vote and Andrzej Lepper (Autodefence of the Republic-Samoobrona), 6%. According to one poll Donald Tusk would beat Lech Kaczynski by 57% versus 43% in the second round (planned for 23rd October).

Results of the Polish General Elections 25th September 2005

Participation rate: 38%

Source Polish Electoral Commission

Results of Senatorial Elections – 25th September 2005

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