The situation after the early elections
On September 7, 2007 the Polish national assembly dissolved itself and the president of the republic called for early elections, which took place on October 21st. Early elections have been held in Poland on several occasions since the regime change, but this was the first time that parliament dissolved itself owing to the failure of the rightwing Law and Justice party PiS in the last two years to consolidate a working relationship with either of the coalition partners. The other main party, which became second at the last elections, i.e., the centre-right liberal Civic Platform (PO) with which they could have formed a comfortable parliamentary majority capable of introducing changes to the constitution was prepared for joint governance only on condition of receiving the prime ministerial post and the abandonment of some fundamental, as well as emblematic programmes of the PiS.
However, the PiS rejected this condition and thus the most important expectations of the Polish electorate have not been realised. As relations between the two potential partners soured, the PiS swallowed the bitter pills repeatedly in this precarious situation, when the party attempted to sustain a functioning coalition with the populist Self Defence of Andrzej Lepper (OS) and the national-Christian radical formation of Roman Giertych, the League of Polish Families (LPR). Finally, the PiS - instead of opting to govern in minority with uncertain prospects - agreed to the staging of early elections.
The parliamentary elections that witnessed the highest voter participation (58.8%) since 1989 was won by the Civic Platform (PO) with 41.51%, gaining 209 mandates in the Sejm, the 460-seat lower house of the Polish legislature and captured 60 out of the 100 seats in the senate. Its electoral camp increased significantly, primarily in the large cities and in the ranks of the young generation. With 32.11% of the ballots, the Law and Justice (PiS) party of the incumbent Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, will have 166 mandates in the Sejm and 39 senators in the upper house. The independent candidate and former leftwing prime minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz received the remaining mandate in the latter. Apart from the two big rightwing formations, the Leftwing and Democrats (LiD - 13.15%, 54 mandates), led by former president Aleksander Kwasniewski, and the Polish Peasants Party (PSL - 8.91%, 30 mandates) passed the 5% parliamentary threshold. The German minority - to which the parliamentary threshold does not apply - will have one representative in the Sejm. The League of Polish Families (LPR), notorious for its numerous scandals, as well as the Self Defence (SO) failed to make it to parliament.
The top man of the PO, Donald Tusk, laboured extensively for four years in order to reach the top. The 'congenial' politician of the 90s has since turned into a remote and pent-up leader, who not so long ago thought of the ideals of the 4th Republic in the same light as Jaroslaw Kaczynski. The question is as to whether he would abandon state reforms planned in the spirit of these ideals. It is an open-ended question, too, as to how far he would go to secure the external support of the LiD, which endeavours to amalgamate the socialist and liberal philosophies, as well as jealously guard the privileges of the 'post-communist elite', while confronted with the political ambitions of the chosen coalition partner, the PSL. Furthermore, the Polish constitution guarantees considerable powers to the president to approve nominations to posts in the legislature and the government, first and foremost to the defence and foreign affairs portfolios.
However, Lech Kaczynski - promoted to the presidential post by the electorate of the defeated PiS and who is also the twin brother of Jaroslaw Kaczynski forced into opposition now - will remain president for the next three years. Albeit, the president of the republic is an individual who in principle stands above all political parties, the practices of the past 16 years in Poland reflect a different reality. The head of state has various instruments at hand to restrict the government's room for manoeuvre. For instance, he can refuse to initial draft legislations endorsed by a minimum majority and return them to the Sejm, which requires a three-fifths majority to quash a presidential veto. The combined number of PO and PSL deputies falls short of this proportion and thus in all such cases, the external support of the LiD would be needed - at a price of course. In consequence, the post-communist side is likely to influence the policies of the PO-PSL and this - as demonstrated by the collaboration of the two blocs in the Warsaw local government - could lead to a rapid erosion of the PO.
Thus, the PO, or the PO-PSL coalition will not have an easy task, albeit the initial position of the Civic Platform is ostensibly better than that of the PiS two years ago. Ostensibly, the coalition with the more predictable PSL would not generate the kind of shock that the collaboration of the PiS with the extremist populist parties had.
The radical state reform plans, known to the public collectively as the 4th Republic, cannot be simply ignored, since a significant proportion of the electoral camp of both the PO and the PiS still anticipate the realisation of the principles contained therein, even without a PO-PiS coalition. Two years ago, the PO itself declared its intention to correct the deformations intrinsic to the 3rd Republic, consequently a refusal to act in this respect and endeavour to protect the conditions existing prior to the Kaczynski government instead, the party would soon suffer a heavy loss of popularity.
According to the critics of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, one of the 'sins' of the former prime minister had been his failure to inject sufficient impetus to the modernisation process, whereas the PO now promises an economic miracle, a 'second Ireland' to the Poles. The realisation of this ostensibly bold objective is not as impossible as it might seem at first sight, but it needs prompt and dynamic action, at least as much determination, resolution and speed, as the PiS demonstrated in respect of the eradication of corruption and the elimination of the legacies of the people's republic.
The system of the distribution of public funds, too, needs restructuring, while the tax regime (reduction and simplification), the health insurance and healthcare systems, as well as the pension scheme also require reforms. Citizens are expecting a reduction in state expenditure and a simplification of the modus operandi of the entrepreneurial sector. If the PO were intent on appearing to the general public as being tangibly different from the PiS, then it must focus on the elimination of the prevailing anomalies in the political and economic spheres. In the views of the general public, attempts to eradicate rampant corruption have hitherto failed, while the majority of the interconnections between the economic-financial and political spheres remain obscured.
Both Russia and the EU are expecting changes from the PO government. However, the majority of Polish society still expects the validation of the country's interests to be the top priority. The electorate of the potential coalition partner insists that the Peasants Party - as a representative the Polish countryside - take decisive steps to secure markets for their produce internally and externally. A growing pressure is being applied by the 'liberal Europeans' lobbyists concentrated in the environs of the Gazeta Wybocza and Adam Michnik as well as by the post-communist LiD to influence the government.
If the PO were to succumb to the pressure in return for the external support and shift in the left-liberal direction, it could easily suffer the fate of the centre-right liberal government of Hanna Suchocka a decade ago, which habitually reached out to the leftwing behind the scenes and thus the recompense for the collaboration led to her government's bankruptcy. Many consider the latest Polish elections as a watershed, since the ballots de facto 'had to be' cast for or against Kaczynski's party.
This time however, Donald Tusk and associates also received a vote of confidence from people who perhaps would never have backed them in a different situation. The question is as to how they will exploit this unique situation. The majority of the electorate supported them precisely because they would like to see a prompt implementation of the principles of the 4th Republic, but in a manner that differs from the style of the PiS leadership.