Tuesday, 27 October 2015

On the recent Polish general election- Polska kieruje ostro w prawo

Two days ago, Poland held its general election, although because it took a long time to verify results (despite the derisory turnout of 51%) I was not able to write this post yesterday. The result was a sharp turn to the right and a clear victory for the Law and Justice Party (PiS) led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, brother of former President Lech Kaczynski (who died in a plane crash in 2010). Needing to present an acceptable face to former Civic Platform (PO) voters, he declined to run for Prime Minister of Poland and instead asked Beata Szydlo to do so. It worked well, since Beata was able to steer the Law and Justice Party towards the first ever single-party majority (235 seats out of 460) in the history of Polish democracy, although given the unstable majority she is likely to seek out a coalition partner, probably the centrist Polish People's Party which managed to avoid losing out. Meanwhile, under the eye of Ewa Kopacz (who became Polish PM after the resignation of Donald Tusk, and the second woman to hold that office; the first was Hanna Suchoka), Civic Platform suffered a substantial blow, dropping from 39% to 24% of the vote partly due to liberal, younger voters it had picked up switching to newer parties (like the populist Kukiz '15 movement) and more conservative and morally conscious voters switching to Law and Justice. Ironically, despite its conservative, right-wing stance, Law and Justice pledged to restore some welfare payments (as long as they were family-related; this is one thing I would approve of in spite of my disagreement about much else of what PiS stands for).

Kukiz '15, led by musician Pawel Kukiz, won 42 seats on a populist platform and finished third even though their socio-economic policies are not so clear and in spite of their strong promotion of a first past the post system for future elections in Poland (outside this new movement there have been no calls for such a system even though the Polish Senate, Poland's upper house, is already elected using this system). The centrist party Modern received 28 seats from a standing start, due to its moderate policies winning over former PO voters, and to a lesser extent dissatisfied Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) voters. The SLD entered in an alliance with Your Movement (formerly Palikot's movement), Labour United, the Greens, and the left-wing Polish Labour Party, but only achieved 7.55%, which is worse than SLD's single party performance of 2011. Although the Polish system of list proportional representation uses a 5% threshold for single parties, this threshold increases to 8% for an alliance of two or more parties. This sadly means the first ever transgender MP anywhere in the entire world, Anna Grodzka, is out of the Polish Sejm for now.

There are quite a few reasons for the disappearance of the SLD and allies from the Polish Parliament of 2015. One is the fact they were being led by Leszek Miller, who as PM infamously presided over the Rywin-gate corruption scandal, and neither Leszek nor SLD has a good reputation amongst most Poles (in fact it has been getting worse even since their catastrophic 2005 defeat), and the ex-communist past of many of its prominent members only adds salt to the wound. Another is the appearance of Razem, Poland's newest counterpart to Podemos, SYRIZA et al. with its collective leadership, its opposition to TTIP, its platform of democratic socialism, and its liberal social policies. It achieved a remarkable 3.62%, sadly not enough to gain any seats but it definitely proved there was room for an alternative. Had it formed earlier than 2015, it might have been able to make enough prior groundwork to breach the 5% threshold.

Two good things occurred in this election in my personal opinion-one was that the extreme right-libertarian KORWiN party, led by the notorious and eccentric Janusz Korwin-Mikke, did not do well enough to enter the Sejm either, managing just 4.76%. The other is that Poland will have in just 23 years (i.e. most of the time in its recent history for where multiparty democracy has existed) have had three different female Prime Ministers, which is a remarkable achievement especially when the only 24.1% of MPs in the Sejm are women. (Norway, by contrast, notable for its consistently strong representation of women by international standards, has only had two different female PMs, one of whom, Erna Solberg, is the incumbent.)


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