Polling Poles

Last Sunday, the Poles made up for the Germans. The elections were a clear victory for the conservatives. There are two main conservative parties, Civic Platform (PO), which is free-market conservative (or “liberal” as they would say in Europe, though not in America), and Law and Justice (PiS), which is social conservative. The two parties are almost equally strong. Before the elections it was long assumed that Civic Platform would become the biggest, but the elections showed the opposite, with Law and Justice attracting 27% of the votes and Civic Platform 24%.

Civic Platform favours liberalisation of the Polish economy (including the introduction of a flat tax) and a pro-Atlanticist foreign policy. Law and Justice stresses the need for social protection. The party is led by the twin brothers Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski, who, as The Economist put it last Saturday, are “noted for their honesty, but also for their […] limited grasp of foreign affairs and economics.” Nevertheless, Law and Justice has Radek Sikorski within its ranks. Sikorski heads the New Atlantic Initiative (NAI), a subsidiary of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington DC, and is a staunch freemarketeer. Perhaps this is why he calls himself bipartisan.

A good analist of the Polish political scene is Peter Gentle, a British journalist based in Warsaw. Gentle blogs daily on current affairs in Poland on his “beatroot” site. He pointed out yesterday that history has repeated itself in Poland.
Like four years ago, the party in government (then the right, now the left) was annihilated, and the turnout was very low. Sunday’s turnout was in fact the lowest in the history of free elections in Poland (37 per cent). “So the Polish left-right roundabout goes round again,” says Gentle. “Which brings to mind something an old German once wrote when he was writing books in the British Library: History repeats – the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Every country, however, has its own farces. In this month of September we have already witnessed three electoral farces. First there were the Norwegian elections on 12 September, where the Right won most of the votes but the Left got a majority of the seats. Then there was the German stalemate on 18 September. And, finally, the Polish “roundabout” of 25 September.

The Poles will have to go the polls again next month, to elect themselves a new president. Though the Polish president has no real power, except for his right to veto new laws, last Sunday’s parliamentary elections were overshadowed by next month’s presidential ones. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, one of the twins, who won yesterday and should normally become Poland’s next Prime Minister, announced that he will only accept the job of PM (the one with the real political clout) if his brother Lech, the other twin, loses the presidential elections and does not become president (the job without real power). He is actually telling the voters that if they want him, they should vote for Donald Tusk, the presidential candidate of Civic Platform. The Kaczynski brothers are, indeed, honest men. Too good, perhaps, to be politicians -- which, in our book, is a compliment.