Monday, February 7, 2011

Parliamentary election in October

The parliamentary election has been set for October 23rd, subject to approval by the president, Bronislaw Komorowski. Barring any significant changes, the current government--a coalition of the centre-right Civic Platform (PO) and the smaller, agrarian Polish Peasants' Party--is expected to remain in office at least until then. Opinion polls suggest that the PO, led by the prime minister, Donald Tusk, is likely to become the first party to secure re-election to office since the end of the communist regime in 1989. Support for the PO is currently around 40-50%, nearly twice that enjoyed by the main opposition party, the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS). However, there are question-marks over whether opinion polls reflect the true level of popular support for the PO. The party's level of support at the local elections in November 2010, at around 30%, fell considerably short of expectations.
The main problem for the PO is that its commanding poll lead over the PiS owes more to the opposition's lack of popularity than to the government's achievements since coming to power in late 2007. The PO's continuing popularity reflects the public's aversion towards the turbulent and confrontational style of politics associated with the PiS. Mr Tusk's administration is generally perceived as having carried out its tasks competently, and it has taken credit for Poland's status as the only European economy to grow in 2009, when the global economic crisis was at its worst. However, even the government's supporters are critical of its lack of ambition and failure to introduce liberalising reforms of the labour market, pension system, public finances and government administration. When the late Lech Kaczynski (whose twin brother, Jaroslaw, is the PiS leader), was president, his veto (or the threat of it) served as an excuse for the government to delay tough policy choices. (The government lacks the three-fifths parliamentary majority necessary to overturn a presidential veto). However, Mr Komorowski, who replaced Lech Kaczynski after his death in April 2010, is a PO nominee, thus removing this excuse. PO officials have justified their relative inaction since Mr Komorowski's election in July 2010 by arguing that drastic actions at this stage are either unneeded or would play into the hands of the PiS.
Nevertheless, the PiS's weakness still makes it likely that the PO will emerge from the election as the largest party in parliament, and will be well placed to lead the government once more. The PiS was rocked in November 2010 by the breakaway of a group of moderates, led by Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, who had run Jaroslaw Kaczynski's presidential campaign in July 2010. Ms Kluzik-Rostkowska and her supporters formed a new centre-right party, Poland is the Most Important. Jaroslaw Kaczynski's uncompromising stance on several issues may have buttressed backing for the PiS among its core supporters (which, according to opinion polls, comprise around 20-25% of the electorate), but it also appears to have eroded support among more moderate Poles.
In January Jaroslaw Kaczynski reacted furiously to the dismissal by the Russian Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) of Polish objections to its report on the circumstances surrounding the crash that killed Lech Kaczynski and many other top Polish officials near Smolensk in western Russia. The IAC report essentially blamed the Polish pilots (and some passengers) for the crash, and exonerated Russian air controllers at Smolensk airport. Mr Kaczynski's reaction was in large part driven by personal grief, but may also have reflected a political calculation. Mr Tusk has looked uncomfortable in his reactions to the IAC report, as he has had to appease the many Poles who felt that the conclusions of the report were deeply unfair, while avoiding an overly emotional response that could set back the progress achieved to date in Polish-Russian relations--a central tenet of the government's foreign policy. Jaroslaw Kaczynski's harsh criticism of the government on this issue may have paid off in the short term, as opinion polls taken after the release of the IAC report showed a drop in support for the PO and a concomitant rise in support for the PiS. However, it is unlikely that this issue will be sufficient on its own to tip the balance in favour of one party or the other.

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