Poland: Low turnout in election brings right wing to power

“Their only weapon will be strikes and demonstrations”

Right-wing parties were swept to power in last week’s parliamentary elections. The right-wing and populist, Law and Justice party (PiS), won 27% of the vote, making it the largest party in parliament, followed by the neo-liberal, Civic Platform (PO), with 24%.

However, the record low turnout of 40% means that almost two thirds of the electorate gave all political parties a massive thumbs-down, showing that they feel no party represented their interests. This also means that the new government has a very narrow social base – only 20% of the electorate actually voted for the parties that will form the new government. Far from being a strong government, the new right-wing coalition will be extremely weak and vulnerable. Not only will it have problems finding support in society, but conflicts will open up within the government, as the neo-liberal Civic Platform will inevitably clash with the social policies promised by the Law and Justice party (PiS).

The first hurdle for PO and PiS coalition government will be to reach agreement on the shape of the new cabinet. Personnel decisions aside, there are already disagreements on the future government’s economic policy. Whilst PO favours a flat tax policy, PiS is against. Civic Platform (PO) wants to privatise everything in sight, whereas Law and Justice (PiS) remain sceptical about further privatisations. PO wants to introduce further social cuts, whilst PiS wants to keep some elements of social protection intact.

However, commenting on the Polish elections, The Economist (London) points out, “since the fall of communism, the pendulum has swung between right and left in a succession of unstable coalition or minority governments…And yet, despite these political gyrations, the policies espoused by those in power have remained remarkably steady. None of Poland’s governments has completely turned its back on privatisation, deregulation or the EU. Nor does any such seismic shift seem likely.”

Whilst the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), saw a much reduced result (down from 40% four years ago to 11% in these elections), this was still much better than expected. A few months ago, most political commentators had completely written off the SLD’s chances of getting into parliament after its disastrous term in office.

“Their only weapon will be strikes and demonstrations”

The problem of the ruling class is summed up by the Berliner Zeitung newspaper: “Poland has become a country without a significant left representation. This is not only astonishing, but also dangerous. Astonishing, because the country needs far-reaching reform of its pension system, health service, labour market and taxes. Dangerous, because those who will lose out through the reforms will remain without effective representatives of their interests in parliament. Their only weapon will be strikes and demonstrations.”

Focus is now turned towards the presidential elections, which take place on 9 October. At the moment, Donald Tusk, the Civic Platform (PO) candidate, is leading in the polls, followed by the Law and Justice’s (PiS) Lech Kaczynski. Unfortunately, the only left candidate, Daniel Podrzycki, leader of the Polish Labour Party (PPP), and the militant trade union, Sierpien 80 (August 80), was killed in a car crash last weekend, just hours before the parliamentary elections. Whilst PPP received only 0.8% of the vote, the increased profile of the party during the presidential elections could have given it a few more percentage points and a chance to build and develop its structures. With the death of this charismatic militant leader, a question mark now hangs over the future of the Polish Labour Party.

When the dust has settled after the elections, and the last election posters have been torn down, the situation in Poland will return to “normal”, in other words, more cuts, more factory closures, more corruption, and more attacks on workers. However, Polish workers will not take these attacks lying down. Although there was enormous apathy in these elections, this does not mean that there will be apathy on the industrial plane. If the Polish ruling class thinks this, it will be in for a rude shock.

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