Monday, October 22, 2007

snap comment on Poland election news

Poland

Sighs of relief
Oct 22nd 2007
From Economist.com


Poland's likely new, less exciting, rulers

WHATEVER the details of Poland's next government, the perplexing and sometime troubling era of the "terrible twins" is over. That, in short, is the message of the election on Sunday October 21st, in which the centre-right opposition Civic Platform party, led by Donald Tusk, trounced the ruling Law and Justice party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who will now step down as prime minister. His twin brother, Lech, will stay on as president, although with sharply diminished political clout. With 90% of the vote counted Civic Platform had received 41.6% of the vote; Law and Justice got 32%.

Law and Justice had called an early election hoping to consolidate the gains made during the past two years, when the party—at times governing alone, otherwise with small coalition allies—has been on a rumbustious crusade to rid Poland of the uklad, a sinister conspiracy of ex-spooks, former communists, corrupt officials and well-connected businessmen. Both the timing of the election, and the tactics adopted in the weeks leading up to it, have proved misjudged.

Many Poles agreed with Law and Justice’s diagnosis of the danger of pervasive corruption, but found the medicine worse than the disease. The government’s favourite means were the use of highly politicised prosecutors against political opponents, and the vindictive and partial leaking of secret-police files and material obtained by the intelligence agencies. Rather than building up the independent institutions that Poland undoubtedly needs, the government tended to pack public bodies with its own people. Its harping on the need for a strong state, coupled with depicting its opponents as crooks and traitors, led some to compare the Kaczynskis' approach to that of Vladimir Putin in neighbouring Russia.

Foreigners found little to admire either. Law and Justice seemed obsessed with the wrongs of the past, but blind to the needs of the present. The Kaczynskis liked to demand “solidarity” from their European allies, but demonstrated little themselves. Their foreign-policy stance was ignorant, clumsy and suspicious.

Amid the sighs of relief, Civic Platform's new government, probably in coalition with the moderate agrarian Polish Peasants' Party, can expect a honeymoon at home and abroad. The Polish economy is doing well, stoked by booming foreign investment, emigres’ remittances, soaring exports and EU funds. That provides plenty of room to deal with Poland's wasteful public finances, unreformed bureaucracy and grievously inadequate transport network.

Abroad, the new government will find a warm welcome, particularly in Germany, where the chancellor, Angela Merkel, has found her repeated attempts to be friendly rebuffed with bewildering chilliness by the Kaczynskis, who seemed to see little difference between Germany and Russia. The Civic Platform leader and putative prime minister, Mr Tusk, speaks German. Law and Justice tried hard, but failed, to exploit that during the campaign.

And it is this which is probably the biggest lesson. The Kaczynski era looked ominous and all but impregnable while it lasted. Eastern Europe's largest democracy seemed to have been captured by a vengeful populist clique, with ideas about the outside world that ranged from the idiosyncratic to the unpleasant. Polish voters, many feared, were too apathetic and disillusioned to care; the institutions of state too weak to resist. The price was paid not only by Poland, which was being pulled away from the European mainstream, but by the whole of the EU, whose most important new member was turning into a highly questionable advertisement for enlargement.

Now those fears have been put to rest. Turnout was so high that some polling stations had to stay open late to cope. Primitive politics, xenophobia, and high-handed attitudes to the niceties of democracy and the rule of law have been shown to be electoral liabilities, not a surefire route to success. For that many will be thankful, not only in Poland.

6 comments:

Robert said...

You wrote:
“WHATEVER the details of Poland's next government, the perplexing and sometime troubling era of the "terrible twins" is over.” – this is factually wrong. Lech Kaczynski – the president - is not “over”. Current elections were only to parliament. And parliamentary elections are not linked to presidential ones in Poland. (Worth knowing this.) In 2005 it was a coincidence.

You will find it soon that the President in Poland has some executive powers. (Incidentally I look at this with some concerns. The President is the ultimate Commander-in-Chief of the army and is responsible for the Polish Foreign Policy, according to Constitution. This is a bit vague, but it immediately leads into potential conflict. I hope that PO will get their way and not get embroiled into conflicting politics with the President.)


You wrote:
“Many Poles agreed with Law and Justice’s diagnosis of the danger of pervasive corruption, but found the medicine worse than the disease.” What is the hard evidence of your statement? How many is “many”? As you know “many” Poles take bribes. Do you mean that these are the Poles who “found the medicine worse than the disease”? This would not surprise me. (It looks like you are mixing with the crowd of questionable reputation:-)

This is the first reflection that crosses one’s mind after reading that comment.


Incidentally, there is the hard evidence that “many Poles agreed with Law and Justice’s diagnosis of the danger of pervasive corruption” and found the medicine as very effective. Read some social research on the subject. Furthermore a lot of them were not PiS supporters and did not plan to vote PiS in the last elections. You should also reflect that although PiS lost to PO, they:
- increased their number of votes by 1.5 million
- increased their share of votes by 5% (from 27% to 32%)
- increased their seats in Sejm (from 155 to 166)
compared to the last elections.

In my view, the main reason why PiS, after two years in power, is more popular than when they got to power is because of their anticorruption stance. This is the feeling amongst ordinary Poles.

Edward Lucas said...

Hi Robert

You are entitle to your view that the election result was in fact a triumph for PiS. However you have misunderstood my opening paragraph. I am well aware that Lech stays on as President. That is why, directly after the sentence you criticise, I write
"His twin brother, Lech, will stay on as president, although with sharply diminished political clout"

The era of the "twins" is over because that era was a time when they each had one of the two highest offices of state. I am sure JK will have fun in opposition--it may suit him temperamentally better than govt

Edward

Robert said...

You wrote to me:
“You are entitle(d) to your view that the election result was in fact a triumph for PiS.” This is rather unfair and unreasonable to come up with pretty ridiculous statement and attribute it to somebody else (in this case myself). It is noted as a pretty popular method amongst the British political crowd, but to the outside world it looks quite primitive and, well,… not entirely honest. (No offence really meant - but it is an immediately seen as illogical way of exchanging arguments that does not help anybody. It really puzzles the outside observers.)

To remind you, I wrote: “(…)PiS, after two years in power, is more popular than when they got to power is (…)”. On all objectively measurable counts. This is a statement of fact, not a matter of opinion. Full stop.

But to avoid any doubt:

- the last election in Poland was PO outright success or triumph. Full stop – no ifs or buts – although as always there are the reasons.

- PiS lost to PO; hence it is a nonsense to consider PiS as “triumphant” (hopefully you agree with this) – unless the word is used in facetious context. However PiS increased their popularity amongst the Poles (although not as much as PO). It would also be wrong to state that it was at the costs of Samoobrona and LPR: PiS got only 25% of Samoobrona last vote and 50% of LPR vote. (On personal note – not representative – two of my friends voted last time LPR this time round… PO. Nothing wrong with that: both very reasonable persons.)

Robert said...

Congrats on an excellent summary and analysis of the election results, Edward. My insight is that the young did come out to vote and also might have influenced their parents, who may have otherwise been more likely to vote for PiS or the other whacko fringe parties. It was that phenomenon that clearly made the difference (read an article in I think it was yesterday's IHT which reflected on this). I had the privilege of managing a group of ten young Poles in Warsaw back in 2005 (average age 25), and I was gratified to see that they carried none of the "Kaczynski baggage" of prior generations. They were the first ones that gave me true hope that Poland's future would be brighter. I am glad to see that impression of mine manifest itself in this way. Cheers.

Edward Lucas said...

Dear Robert

I am a bit puzzled by the way in which you berate me so crossly in the first two posts and compliment me so nicely in the third one. But thanks for the feedback anyway

Edward

Otto said...

Edward,

You are dealing with two people who gave Google the same first name: Robert (surnames are not displayed.) Their identities are separate, which can be seen by clicking on their names, or merely moving the mouse pointer over their names and looking at the URL which displays at the bottom of the browser window.