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Countdown to Sunday's Polish elections

by MarekNYC Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 05:36:19 AM EST

An informative piece from the diaires ~ whataboutbob

The winner of the October presidential elections having just been decided, I thought I'd post a diary about them and the Sept. 25 parliamentary vote.  But before I do so a brief summary of the Polish political scene.

Parties, from left to right: will get into parliament

Samoobrona (Self-defense) - a populist, authoritarian, mainly peasant party run by Andrzej Lepper. Lepper and his organization rose to prominence through numerous illegal and sometimes violent protests in the nineties.  He has consistently made it clear that he would like to be Poland's Lukashenko.  Their economic policies are an incoherent left wing mess and they blame all of Poland's economic problems on the capitalist elites, the Germans, the EU, and the Jews - in that order. Their base is among the losers of Poland's transformation into a capitalist state in the desperately poor rural areas and dying small towns.  Samoobrona should poll around ten percent.

SLD (Alliance of the Democratic Left) - the post-communists. Their rhetoric ranges from populist socialism to hardline liberalism. Their practice is a mix of orthodox liberalism and kleptocracy.  The ranks of their activists are almost entirely made up of former apparatchiks. As they were headed for a landslide victory in the last elections most people figured that while corrupt, they couldn't be that much worse than the right wing incumbents and that at least they'd be reasonably competent. Conventional wisdom was wrong on both counts. That's why they're headed for a catastrophic defeat.

PO (Civic Platform) Center right. To be more exact they are ultra liberal on economic policy, center left on the issue of extreme nationalism and the role of the Church ,center right on what we in the US call `social' issues like abortion or homosexuality.  The PO is also moderately Europhilic. They are made up primarily of the hardline liberals from the old dissident party, Unia Wyborcza (Electoral Union), though minus the most prominent of the UW liberals, Leszek Balcerowicz who was the architect of Poland's shock therapy. They also got a few of the liberals from the main governing party of the old government the AWS (Electoral Action-Solidarity) which like its coalition partner the UW failed to get any seats in the current parliament.  The PO's two top leaders are Donald Tusk, Poland's next president, and Jan Maria Rokita who will probably become the next prime minister. Some parts of the party, notably former Warsaw mayor Pawel Piskorski, are very corrupt.

PiS (Law and Justice) - hard right. Well to the right of the PO except on economic policy. They are led by the identical twins Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Lech is currently mayor of Warsaw and running a distant second in the presidential polls. The party tends to emphasize nationalism, extreme anti-communism, and the muscular law and order rhetoric that its name suggests. It tends to have a very uneven relationship with the extreme right - occasionally close, occasionally very hostile.  Strongly europhobic grudgingly supportive of Polish EU membership. Very pro- American, or at least Republican, very anti-Russian and anti-German. One of its main planks is anti-corruption. However, back when the right last one power in the nineties Jaroslaw Kaczynski famously stated `now it's our fucking turn' - referring to the lucrative patronage opportunities in the state sector. Its closest West European equivalent would be the hardline wing of the CDU (e.g. Koch), the hard right in France (e.g. Pasqua or de Villiers) or the right wing of the British Conservatives.  Like the PO its leadership is primarily drawn from the old anti-communist opposition of the eighties.  

LPR (League of Polish Families) Extreme right. Emphasis on extreme.  Think of an NPD minus any laws curtailing extremism, or any Verfassungsschutz to enforce them.  Their moderate wing is roughly the equivalent of a Le Pen or the most right wing of fundy Republicans like Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum.  Economically moderately left wing - sort of - any of you who have read fascist writings on the economy will understand. Poland in their eyes is being persecuted and exploited by the Jews, the masons, the Germans. The external agent of the Jewish-masonic-germanic alliance is the EU, the internal one the liberals of both the post dissident and ex-communist variety.  They are also anti-American and until very recently tended to be pro-Russian - opposing NATO membership and the Ukrainian revolution. Previous attempts to create a durable extreme right political force failed due to internal power struggles and incompetent leaders. Unfortunately, now they have a telegenic, charismatic, and intelligent leader named Roman Giertych. Giertych is the grandson and annointed political heir of a leading fascist ideologue of the thirties. The extreme right is supported by the fundy Catholic media empire of Father Tadeusz Rydzyk.

Probably won't get into parliament:
PSL - peasant party, traditional coalition partner of the post-communists. They themselves are the heirs to the old communist era puppet peasant party. Over the past decade they have devolved into little more than a patronage party.

SdPl - splinter party of the SLD formed last year in real or feigned outrage at the massive corruption of the SLD. Mostly from the SLD's liberal wing.

Democrats - Attempt to revive the old left-liberal dissident party that played a key role in Polish politics from the fall of communism until the last elections. They'd be my first choice if it looked like they had a chance of getting over the five percent barrier. That doesn't look likely - shows how in tune I am with the Polish electorate.  

Current poll numbers (9/15 and 9/17): (five percent barrier for getting into parliament)
PO: 38%32%
PiS: 23%/27%   
SLD: 11%/7%
Samoobrona: 8%/12%
LPR: 8%/10%
PSL: 4%/4%
SdPl 3%/35
Democrats 2%/3%

This first set would result in a parliament with 210 PO seats, 121 PiS, 57 SLD, 37 Samoobrona, 34 LPR.

Presidential candidates
Donald Tusk (PO) - 41%/44%
Lech Kaczynski (PiS) 21%

Wlodzimerz Cimosiewicz (SLD- current head of parliament) 19% - dropped out
Andrzej Lepper (Samoobrona) 7%/11%
Marek Borowski (SdPl) 3%/8%
Maciej Giertych (LPR) 3% - seems intelligence and charisma skipped a generation

Cimosiewicz just dropped out following a weeks long campaign accusing him of tax fraud and dubious stock transactions. Considering one of his main strengths was a reputation for honesty by the rather low standards of Polish politics, he was mortally wounded and knew it, regardless of whether or not the accusations were true .  Expect his support to mostly split between Tusk and Borowski. If Tusk fails to get fifty percent in the first round expect most of Cimosiewicz's supporters to go for Tusk.  As the poll numbers indicate Tusk was already an overwhelming favorite before this most recent bombshell. Barring some major surprise he will be the next president.

Overall the recent poll trend is relatively positive. Last year it occasionally looked like the PiS might narrowly beat out the PO and that the two parties combined would fail to get a majority, meaning a need for a coalition with the LPR. Both the LPR and Samoobrona were doing much better. Lech Kaczynski was for a long tie the favorite in presidential polls.  . It seems the main reason for the rise of the PO is the success of EU membership.  On the other hand there really is no viable party for a progressive in present day Poland, unless you find kleptocratic socio-liberal ex-apparatchiks with organized crime connections appealing. I don't. Still, it's far better than the nightmare scenario of Lech as president, Jaroslaw as PM and the LPR as coalition partners.  But one should be careful, polls have been very volatile.

Hello Marek, been looking forward to your post on this, and will read this over closely. Thank you!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 01:13:52 PM EST
I posted this a few days ago in another thread, thought it worth reposting here in one devoted to the Polish elections. So, a brief history of Polish elections starting with the first, partially free ones, in 1989

  1. Senate and part of the lower house have free elections, the majority of the lower house is reserved for the communists and their puppet parties. Result: candidates nominated by Solidarity sweep every single freely contested seat in the lower house, all except one in the Senate. The news was even worse than that for the communists. To create an illusion of democracy they ran multiple candidates in those seats reserved for them. Voters systematically crossed out the more senior apparatchiks in favour of anonymous nobodies, leaving the Communists largely bereft of their leadership in parliament.  Seeing the writing on the wall, enough communist and puppet party parliamentarians split off to give a majority to a unified Solidarity government.

  2. Solidarity by now splintering into numerous parties, which between them get most of the votes. Unstable governments as the parties bicker. Main division is between the old dissident movement and those who became prominent post 1980 and are generally more to the right.

  3. Most of the Solidarity parties disappear as the post communists and the peasant party win the elections.  The seat distribution is far more skewed than the vote as right wing parties get only a miniscule number of seats in spite of winning close to a third of the vote: 5%/8% threshold proves fatal to the splintered right. Main opposition is the old dissident party, the UW.

  4. The AWS, a cobbled together coalition of the right wing parties under the umbrella of Solidarity, wins a convincing victory and governs in coalition with the UW. Parties continually split off and by the last year of the parliament there is a very weak minority govt.

  5. The AWS and the UW both fail to get into parliament. The post communist SLD gets about 40% of the vote and about 50% of the seats. The two main opposition parties are the PO - the ultra-liberal right wing minority of the old UW with a few ultra liberals from the AWS and PiS, a bunch of AWS types under the aegis of the Kaczynski twins who had been the organizing genius behind the AWS but had split off almost immediately.

  6. next week: ?

As you can see from the above, Poland isn't among the more stable democracies
by MarekNYC on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 01:26:58 PM EST
Thanks for the diary.

Well, Poland looks as stable as Ireland has been sometimes. We managed three elections inside a year at one stage as far as I remember.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 04:40:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given the front-page post on the failure of pretty much all the polls in Germany to accurately predict the election results there, what can you tell us about the reliability of the source for these poll numbers.  Is it genuinely reasonable to believe that the figures reported here will resemble the actual vote tallies, or is there a real possibility that these numbers could be off by a similar amount (5-6%)?  It also seems notable that the margin between PO and PiS is 15% in one of the polls, but only 5% in the other (slightly later) poll.  Should observers be concerned that PiS might be peaking right as the election run-up enters its homestretch?
by The Maven on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 04:39:23 PM EST
Well I'll be willing to bet that at least one of the polls conducted in the two months or so before the election will somewhat resemble the results :)

Seriously, however, I'm not sure whether the problem is with the polls or the incredible volatility of the Polish electorate.  At this point I am willing to say that it is very likely that the PO will emerge as the largest party and virtually certain that the PO plus PiS will have enough seats to form a majority government. Beyond that - let's see the results on Sunday.  On the other hand I don't see how Kaczynski can become president. Back when he was the favorite, his chances rested on the hope that Tusk wouldn't make it to the second round.

by MarekNYC on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 05:06:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the excellent round-up.

It is interesting the degree to which "populism" and authoritarianism is popular with the electorate. How much is this a product of rapid economic change and the post-Communist "shock"? And how much is this related to the strength of the Catholic Church, still?

The populist/authoritarian/corporatist tendency in Polish politics strikes me as quite similar to the kinds of tendencies that existed in other Catholic European countries before WWII - Spain, France, Italy, and interestingly, in Quebec, which largely have minimized over time as the Catholic Church's grip on these societies has waned and the coutries (provinces) have become more prosperous and "white collar."

Ben P

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Wed Sep 21st, 2005 at 05:59:04 PM EST
Could yo clarify what you mean by "ultra liberal on economic policy" in reference to the PO?  I'm getting very confused by the bandying about of the word liberal in various fora and I need a bit of help.  The US meaning of liberal is very different from the French meaning, for example, and the division seems to be between social and economic policies.  
["socially liberal" = progressive, left(ish), pro-diversity etc.  The kind of thing that the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party see as satanic - shortened to "liberal" in the US; "economically liberal"= also called the "Anglo saxon model", a basically right wing raft of economic policies - shortened to "liberal" in France.  Thus hearing an American refer to "ultra liberal on economic policy" I just need some help understanding what exactly this means]

[Coming from the UK, where "liberal" always meant fence-sitting centrists when I was groing up, it's doubly difficult to square everything, and the term "hard-line liberals" sounds like a complete oxymoron]

Musings on life in Romania and beyond

by adhoc on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 04:07:38 AM EST
and the term "hard-line liberals" sounds like a complete oxymoron


by PeWi on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 05:20:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having encountered liberalism in Hungary when both its social and economic wings existed and lived together, the US usage perplexed me for long, too. Having since read up on other regions' usage and having been taught by a helpful American on what happened there (I previously assumed that US social democrats adopted the nomer suring the McCarthy era...), here is how I would summarize it:

Liberalism originally developed in opposition to all kinds of traditional authoritarianism (royal, aristocratic, church) as a burgeois ideal of equality and freedom.

In South America, the overthrow of old landowner elites happened early on in the 19th century, but there was only a very narrow pool of city-dwelling citizens, so they quickly transformed into another pro-elite movement, one that supports and depends on super-rich businessmen, and hence is rather authoritarian.

In North America, tough many Founding Fathers had an agrarian utopia in mind, the Revolution was in fact a liberal victory. Thus liberals didn't have to focus on authoritarian traditional elites - instead, they had to notice how new elites form and opress people. US  liberalism noticed that equal rights by law aren't enough, because various factors (like inherited wealth, education, preconceptions on race and sex) prevent equal opportunities. US liberalism discovered the state as a vehicle to create equal opportunities, and thus became identified with Big Government. But, there were also the extreme liberals, the libertarians, who in opposition to the liberals' changeover focused on economic freedoms, and in the seventies they spawned neoliberalism (which uses the state to destroy the state's role in the economy).

In the more industrialised West Europe, liberals fought on and dismantled the old autocracy until WWI, then became victims of their own success and the rise of socialistic movements. But before, differing concepts of liberalism evolved: individual vs. collective freedoms, the latter explains how some liberals (for example the German FDP) are nationalistic. On the mainland, since conservatives were for economic control by the state too (but for authoritarian and nationalistic reasons, not for redistribution), until recently they could maintain a quite distict platform of their own, on the economy. In the UK, I think Thatcher's makeover of the Tories into neoliberal revolutionaries was what turned the local liberals into fence-sitter centrists, and neoliberal economic policy into 'conservative'.

In Eastern Europe, the development was more complex. First, due to feudal societies, it started with enlightened aristocrats dreaming about industrialisation and a burgeoise. In the ninteenth century they were halfway between South American and West European style liberalism. But then came fascism and communism, and liberals defined themselves in opposition to those. Regrettably, as lately neoliberalism became accepted to some extent in almost every political family, liberals in former communist countries and many Western European ones became its cheerleaders, abadoning much more broad concepts of freedom.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 06:59:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...oh, and since the question was ultraliberal economic policy, that's: taxes down and flat, away with regulations, away with workers' rights, privatise remaining state services, let the market regulate everything.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 07:02:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks DoDo, and I realised when I read more closely that I could have answered my own question.  Since, in the next party description, Mayek actually does characterise the PiS as being "hard right. Well to the right of the PO except on economic policy".  

So apologies for the question

(Although to get back to one of your points DoDo, In the UK, I think Thatcher's makeover of the Tories into neoliberal revolutionaries was what turned the local liberals into fence-sitter centrists, they were fence sitters before Thatcher came along.  It seems to me they've been fence sitters ever since the founding of the Labour Party.  In fact now is the only time in the last 80 or 90 years when they are not the centre party.

Musings on life in Romania and beyond

by adhoc on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 07:27:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have to ask you for more explanation here :-)

To my knowledge, in the Thatcher years, Liberals formed an Alliance with the SDP, which I vaguely recall to have been to the left of Labour. Is that wrong? Were SDP centrists too?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 07:35:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The SDP were labour party rebels  who believed the labour party had gone too far to the left.  So, yes, definitely centrists.   They were led by David Owen, who you may remember as one of the diplomats who so terribly fouled up the Bosnian civil war.

Musings on life in Romania and beyond
by adhoc on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 08:02:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, thank you!

(But by now, Bliar took Labour far to the right of the onetime SDP, I guess?...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 08:10:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh yes.  Those rebels look like George Galloway next to Bliar.

Musings on life in Romania and beyond
by adhoc on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 09:00:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Um, I'm not sure if Galloway is really the right metric. I really am not sure what to call someone who on the one hand sees the fall of communism as the saddest event of his life and thinks Stalin was just swell, and on the other has a crush on the religious right.  Whatever he is, he doesn't bear much in the way of a resemblance to the Social Dems.  
by MarekNYC on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 02:11:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, come on Marek.  You must know that I picked Galloway as the most left-wing person in UK politics I could think of off the top of my head just to make an exaggerated point about how far to the right the Labour party has slid under Blair.  It must have been obvious.  Surely?  From your response I can come to only two possible conclusions:
1. You didn't realise and insist on reading everything absolutely literally, the implication being that you probably think the universe and everything in it was created in 6 days.
2. You did know that but you decided to take the opprotunity to have a gartuitous pop at Galloway (because that demonsiation hasn't been done to death has it?).  Yawn.

Musings on life in Romania and beyond
by adhoc on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 03:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
opportunity, gratuitous, demonisation.

I really must get used to hitting that spellcheck button.

Musings on life in Romania and beyond

by adhoc on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 03:48:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They'd be my first choice if it looked like they had a chance of getting over the five percent barrier. That doesn't look likely - shows how in tune I am with the Polish electorate.

Familiar feeling... :-(

Many thanks for this detailed summary!

Before, I always wondered why Poland has three far-right parties, turns out it has just one. Samoobrona was most interesting, From the little I read I assumed it is right-wing in the style of the onetime Smallholders' Party here in Hungary (but much more extreme).

Tough, worth to note, in our region on economic policy, conservatives, liberals and socialists were never on a left-right continuum, it's more like they were three poles, or three segments of a circle, with actual political movements always being some mix. (For example, what passed for communism in Central-Eastern Europe was almost always nationalistic, too.) Conservatives always liked economic control by the state, but their goal wasn't redistribution (well except fascists), but pure control, or preparing for the next war...

BTW, does that idiot really present Lukashenko as something positive? If I am not mistaken, Belarus still has state-run collective farming, but Leppner's supporters are smallholders, how does he reconcile that?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 07:16:13 AM EST
I forgot: would you compare Leppner and his movement to Slovakia's Vladimír Mečiar, a(nother IMO) far-left-and-chauvinist-populist?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 07:18:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, Lepper does explicitly present Lukashenko as positive. I believe he was also a manager on a state farm at some point (most of Poland's post 1956 agriculture was privately owned but in the 'recovered' i.e. former German territories, the old Junker estates were state run, there were also some state/collective farms elsewhere. Post '89 peasants on state farms were screwed - they were given land but nothing else. They became lost economies of scale and the state subsidies that had helped them.) But Lepper's appeal really is just pure ressentiment.  Unless you consider an economic 'policy' that calls for cutting taxes, raising spending, looting central bank reserves, creating custom barriers to EU imports, getting more subsidies from the EU, lowering the value of the zloty, and cutting interest rates as something that is meant seriously.

And yes, Polish politics aren't on a strictly economic policy spectrum. The most right wing on econ is the PO, then come the SLD and PiS tied, then the LPR, then Samoobrona. With the elimination of the left-liberals as a political force, the PO knows that regardless of how reactionary its economic policies are, there really isn't another choice available for those who don't care for the rhetoric of extreme nationalism or for the organized utterly cynical and ideology bereft group of lifelong kleptocrats that is the SLD.  The sad thing is that I would eagerly support a different ultra liberal program, one that took a chainsaw to the maze of regulations designed (often intentionally) to facilitate corruption and cronyism. But it's not like the PO is exactly crystal clean, just less corrupt than some of the others. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

by MarekNYC on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 02:07:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll do a full one tomorrow as a new diary but for now:

The PO is losing ground as all the other parties gang up on it. The PiS' on and off again love affair with the extreme right is in the on phase. To combat the PO they are emphasizing that they are well to the left of the PO on economic policy while being given a huge microphone by the extreme right media empire of Father Tadeusz Rydzyk who serves as the extreme right's eminence grise.  Rydzyk's folks are rather unhappy with the idea of the PO winning the elections since they view it as simply one local branch of the Jewish-masonic world  conspiracy.  Ideally Rydzyk would like an LPR-PiS government, failing that a PiS led PiS, LPR, Samoobrona one. Anything but a PO led PO-PiS coalition.

The PiS is also calling the PO leadership on its past support for the legalization of abortion, and saying that they are crypto-SLD types, pointedly reminding Poles that back in '92 the people now in the PO worked with, among others the SLD, to destroy a government based on an alliance between the political precursor of PiS and the extreme right. Furthermore the PiS is promising that it won't abandon foreign policy to those cosmopolitan traitors in the PO.

 In reality the PO doesn't give a damn about things like abortion or gay rights. The good little class warriors that they are, they know that for the wealthy and upper middle class abortions will always be available and that they can laugh at the fundies from the safety of their expensive  homes and nightlife spots. They do care about foreign policy, however, and that could be a source of conflict in the next government. The PO believes that the EU is great for Poland's economy and that Poland should strive for a better relationship with Germany out of pragmatic reasons.

(In case it isn't clear, I'm not that fond of the PO, I just really hate everybody else.)

by MarekNYC on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 02:38:02 PM EST
That it could be worse?

Thanks for the info; I just wish it were better.

by gradinski chai on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 04:23:51 AM EST

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