Poland seems to have settled into a rather strange electoral pattern: every time a general election is held the incumbent party is not just defeated, but virtually annihilated. So it was in 2001, when the post-communist SLD wiped the floor with the AWS (a conglomerate of post-Solidarity parties) which then ceased to exist. And so it was in the latest elections, in September 2005, when the SLD was utterly defeated by a party called “Prawo i Sprawiedliwość” or PiS (Law and Justice). Yet these tidal changes are largely illusory. The party names change but the faces remain the same.
PiS is the biggest party in the Polish parliament, with 156 seats. The chairman of the governing party is Jarosław Kaczyński (“catch-EEN-ski”). The president of Poland is his twin brother, Lech. But the PiS mandate is weaker than the presence of twin brothers at the centre of power might suggest: the Polish parliament has 460 seats, meaning that the country has been run by a minority government for the last six months. The other main parties are: Platform Obywatelska or PO (Civic Platform), with 131 seats; Samoobrona (Self Defence) with 55 seats; Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR, (League of Polish Families) with 32 seats; and Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL (Polish Peasants’ Party) with 25. The SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) still has 55 seats but in the current political climate is unlikely to play any role in coalitions or pacts. [Information about party strengths]
Six months after the election a coalition is only now emerging. In Febuary a ‘stability pact’ was agreed between PiS, Samoobrona and the LPR. This did not bring stability. Almost immediately after it was signed Kaczyński was using a law concerning budget deadlines to threaten the co-signatories with early elections (the LPR is very vulnerable) if they did not agree to PiS’s programme. It was expected that PiS and PO would go into coalition but relations seem to have broken down (repeatedly, one might add). PiS tried to pass a resolution for the ‘self-dissolution’ of parliament on April 6th, which would have meant elections in Autumn, but received only 206 of the 307 votes they needed. As we go to press a coalition with Samoobrona is being negotiated. The LPR seems in danger of splitting as PiS goes over the head of leader Roman Giertych to negotiate with Anna Sobecka. The foreign minister, Stefan Meller has given to understand that he will resign if Samoobrona goes into government, while deputy prime minister and ship-jumper Zyta Gilowska (formerly PO) is waiting and seeing.
Socially, PiS is very conservative and professes to be Catholic (not in the sense of ‘universal’). The party openly identifies with the media empire of Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the man behind fundamentalist Catholic, casually anti-semitic radio station Radio Maryja and Tram television. Only Tram television was invited to cover the signing of the ‘stability pact’. Ministers regularly appear on Tram, where they say they ‘feel at home’. PiS is a law and order party, favouring 24 hour courts and harsher punishment rather than resocialisation of criminals. They play on Polish nationalism, with plans to introduce the inculcation of patriotism in schools.
One gets the impression that economics are far less important to the party than social and identity issues. For what it’s worth, their policies are, shall we say, state-interventionist, closer to the left than to the right. For example, they introduced a non means-tested cash payment to all people who have children and a bill to financially aid people who as a result of fighting for a free Poland are in poverty. A look at the bills and acts passed and under consideration in the last sitting of the parliament is instructive. Apart from the above mentioned bill they include:
The PO, with whom PiS seemed destined at one point to govern with in coalition, is a very different party. It is what commentators here call ‘economically liberal’: i.e. it has fully accepted neo-liberal economic policy. It supports a flat tax. Socially, it would be more tolerant of difference than PiS.
Samoobrona, headed by Andrzej Lepper, is even more populist than PiS. The party is a conservative defender of farmers’ rights and regarded with fear by many. Lepper has been known to make anti-semitic remarks. Then there is the LPR, again, a very conservative, Catholic organisation.
The SLD has been left out in the cold and seems rudderless now. PiS’s redistributive economic policies might seem to make them natural bed fellows but this would be to assume that the word ‘left’ in SLD means that they are left wing. When in power, the SLD favoured laws making it easier to fire workers – a la Villepin in France. In any case, for historical and personal reasons, PiS is unlikely to have anything to do with the post-communists. Local party activists have been instructed not to do any electoral deals with the SLD in the upcoming local elections.
‘Układ‘ is defined as: 1: arrangement; layout… 2: system… 5: arrangement, (in politics, law) agreement, treaty, concord. Układy (plural) means ‘connections’. The Polish for “Warsaw pact is ‘Układ Warszawski‘. 1980s Polish post-punk band Republika had a song called Układ sił (roughly: power system). The word is, then, rich in connotations. It is the key to understanding the Kaczyński twins. In brief, they came to power promising to smash the ‘Układ‘ that has been misruling – plundering, disgracing – Poland for the last 16 years. Modern Poland was born out of the so-called round table negotiations between the communist regime and the victorious opposition in 1989. According to the Kaczyńskis, the establishment was rotten from the start. Instead of taking power from the communists, the opposition compromised by accepting a managed transfer and public life has ever since been infiltrated by former communist secret service agents who have corrupted politics and used privatisation to make gigantic sums of money. PiS claims to be on a mission to finally deal with the communist agents.