Polish Voters have made the Civic Platform party accountable for its unfulfilled promises of change
The centrist, pro-EU Civic Platform (PO) founded by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, came second in Poland’s general election with 24.1 per cent of the vote, winning 138 seats in the 460-seat Sejm, down from 207 seats it won in 2011.
PO, in power since 2007, lost this year’s election, because it was perceived as elitist, remote, arrogant, focused on its own interest and out of touch with problems of ordinary people. Ewa Kopacz, who succeeded Mr Tusk as the party’s leader, may soon face a challenge to her leadership.
The rightwing, eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a twin brother of former president Lech Kaczynski who died in a plane crash in 2010 in Smolensk, came first with 37.6 per cent of the vote, giving it 235 seats in the lower house of parliament, the first independent majority in Poland’s post-communist history. PiS appealed to ultra-conservative, less well-off and disgruntled voters, though it also reached young and moderate urban voters.
Mr Kaczynski has nominated Beata Szydlo as prime minister, but it is widely expected that he would rule behind the scene.
The Polish economy has doubled in size since the country’s accession to the European Union in 2004, outpacing its central and eastern European neighbours. With unbroken growth through the global financial crisis and the 550 billion dollars GDP, Poland has become the sixth-largest economy in the European Union. GDP per capita at purchasing power parity is around 70 per cent of the EU average at present, compared with just above 30 per cent in 1989, when the country regained democratic independence. That’s a good part of the story.
On the other hand, many voters, particularly the young, feel that they have been excluded from an economic boom of the past decade. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, at 9.7 per cent in September, according to figures from the national statistics office (GUS). The jobless rate among the young is more than twice the national average and it is also well above the OECD average of 16 per cent. Moreover, too many people work for low wages, at around 500 euro per month. This situation explains why emigration is high. More than 2 million Poles live and work in western EU countries, often accepting jobs below their qualification, because they can’t find jobs at all at home. Very often the perception among voters was that the PO-led coalition government put more efforts in defending the payments of UK benefits for children, who live in Poland, while one of the parents works in the UK, than on implementing policies aimed at attracting the Polish diaspora back to the country.
Wealth is visible in Warsaw, the capital, or other big cities such as Poznan and Wroclaw in western Poland, but not in Radom (for example), a city located just 100 kilometres south of Warsaw, where the unemployment rate stands at above 20 per cent, or in less-developed, rural areas of eastern Poland, known as “Poland B”, where the main employer is the public sector and the average income per person is roughly one-fifth of that in Warsaw.
The PO-led government, which was admired across Europe, shied away from taking politically unpopular action. Under huge resistance from trade unions, it didn’t reform the highly inefficient coal-mining industry located in the southern region of Silesia and the heavily-subsidised farmer’s pension fund, KRUS, albeit in the latter case, it failed to take actions, because the opposition from the agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL), the Civic Platform’s junior coalition partner, which won 16 seats in October’s election. The lack of reforms may threaten the health of public finances in the near future.
The anti-establishment movement led by Pawel Kukiz, a rock star with no political experience, got 8.8 per cent of the vote, winning 42 Sejm seats. The movement was strongly supported by young people.
A pro-business party led by Ryszard Petru, a former World Bank economist, won 7.6 per cent of the vote (28 seats).
United Left, a coalition of leftwing parties, failed to cross the threshold needed to enter parliament for the first time since 1989.
photo: Platforma Obywatelska RP / CC BY-SA 2.0