Polish parliamentary election

In addition to Switzerland, today will also see general parliamentary elections in Poland. These elections were called early when the governing coalition, in power since shortly after the elections of September, 2005, collapsed.

Given the outcome of Poland’s parliamentary and presidential elections of 2005–the first year in which both institutions had been elected in close proximity–Poland has not only the dual executive that defines its semi-presidential regime type, but a twin executive.

Today’s election is expected to be close. It is by no means certain that the party of the Kaczynski twins, the conservative-nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), can retain the premiership. The other main contender is the Civic Platform (CO), usually described as a “liberal” (in the European sense) party. The Polish party system is highly fragmented. In 2005, the PiS was the largest party with 27% of the vote and 155 of the 460 seats. The PO was second with 24.1% and 133. The next largest parties had around 11%. The electoral system is districted open-list PR (in 40 districts).

Under Poland’s constitution, the presidency is one of the most powerful in (non-XSSR) Europe–for instance it has a veto that needs 3/5 to override ((I mistakenly wrote 2/3 initially.)) –but the president’s ability to appoint the cabinet is limited. The president has discretion to nominate a candidate to be premier, and here’s betting he will choose his twin brother. However, the premier cannot take office until he and the proposed cabinet obtain a vote of investiture (and, of course, once appointed, the cabinet depends on the ongoing confidence of the lower house).

EuroTrib will be a good place to follow the elections and the results, as they come in.

Poland: Early elections

The Polish Sejm, or lower house of parliament, voted (by more than the required two thirds) to dissolve itself and go to early elections.

Poland is a premier-presidential system with a fairly powerful presidency; nonetheless, the president can ensure his allies control the prime minister’s chair and the cabinet only if the balance of partisan forces in parliament is favorable to him.

Of course, following the most recent elections about two years ago, not only did President Lech Kaczynski manage to place an ally in the prime minister’s chair. He was able to get his twin brother as PM.

The campaign is underway and already “bitter.” Who will win? In Poland’s volatile and fragmented party system, it is hard to say, but clearly the twins are anticipating a changed parliamentary balance that will permit them to realign what has been an unstable coalition.

The crisis that triggered the decision to dissolve parliament came to a head when the Prime Minister fired Andrzej Lepper, the leader of Self Defense, from his position as deputy prime minister and agriculture minister, resulting in a cabinet lacking a parliamentary majority.

Civic Platform [a pro-business party], which according to two recent but conflicting opinion polls, is either running neck-and-neck with [the ruling] Law and Justice or trailing it, will in any case need at least one coalition partner if it manages to win the most votes in October.

The party is already considering the possibility of a coalition with the small leftist Polish Peasant Party. The problem for Donald Tusk, the leader of Civic Platform, is that the newly established Left party, led by the former President Aleksander Kwasniewski, is also trying to bring this peasant party into his movement.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the twins’ Law and Justice party intend to tap the rural vote, which went mostly for rivals Self Defense or for the Polish Peasant Party in 2005. The campaign will try to make it a fight against corruption, which may seem odd for a party (and family) that currently controls both the presidency and the prime ministership, but, of course, Law and Justice is blaming its erstwhile partner for the corruption (as well as clearly attempting to emphasize it stands for what its rather empty label implies).

The election will be 21 October.

Click on “Poland” above to see entries relating to the previous elections (both presidential and parliamentary) and the twins.

24 years ago today

Twenty four years ago today, the reactionary forces of Soviet-style Communism declared martial law in an effort to snuff out the liberation movement of Poland’s Solidarity trade union. Founded the previous August with a series of industrial strikes that would have made Marx proud, Solidarity was close to overthrowing the Polish Communist government peacefully. In fact, I remember days later it being repored that at an upcoming session of the Communist Party’s handpicked parliament, the Party was likely to lose a series of important votes. So rotten to the core was Polish Communism that it was about to collapse from within, and only a military coup could halt it–temporarily, as it turned out.


In June, 1989, the Polish authorities held an election that they thought they had carefully rigged. Solidarity swept all the seats open for electoral competition, and Communism quickly unravelled throughout eastern Europe.

Some details on the martial-law declaration are here, including an overview of the ways in which the declaration itself violated even the Communists’ own legal strictures.

Soviet History has some background on the Solidarity movement.

Polish government formed

The Polish parliament, elected in September, endorsed a minority cabinet of the Law and Justice Party (PiS). (Duetsche Welle’s program, Journal, via LinkTV.)

This party also controls the presidency, having seen its candidate, Lech Kaczynski, to victory in the presidential runoff last month, culminating Poland’s season of elections. Law and Justice had been expected to form a majority coalition with Civic Platform, the party whose candidate was the runner-up in the presidential election. But they were unable to agree, so the minority government will govern with the backing of several small parties. It takes a “constructive” no confidence vote to replace a cabinet (i.e. a majority has to vote in a replacement) and the presidency is fairly powerful. So it should be a fairly stable government, despite the considerable fragmentation of the parliament.

Poland and its twins

As I mentioned back in early September was a possibility, the twins have made electoral history. (That link takes you to a nice picture of the twins as little child stars!)

Poland, a semi-presidential system in which there is both an elected president with real powers and a prime minister dependent on parliamentary confidence, has just completed its cycle of parliamentary and presidential elections. It was the first time in Poland’s brief democratic experience that the two institutions (presidency and parliament) had been elected in such close succession, and one of the leading parties is headed by twin bothers.

The Law and Justice Party, headed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, came out on top (though well short of a majority) in the parliamentary elections of September 25. On Sunday, Lech Kaczynski, the current mayor of Warsaw, won the runoff and is now president-elect.

It would be possible for the twins to be president and prime minister, although Jaroslaw had already promised not to seek to be PM if his brother won the presidential election.

MarekNYC has further details on the coalition that will have to be formed involving both Law and Justice (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO) party of the presidential runner-up, Donald Tusk.

On policy, MarekNYC concludes with the following observation:

On economic policy the PO wants to slash taxes for the rich and mildly cut expenditures on the poor while PiS wants to cut taxes for the middle class and raise social spending. Considering Poland has a large budget deficit as it is, these programs could not be enacted. My best guess is that they’d meet in the middle and keep things roughly as they are now, with some tweaking around the margins – but that is just an educated guess. On foreign policy you’d see a strengthening of Polish-American ties, somewhat greater hostility to Russia. And while the PO is Europhilic, it is also strongly neo-liberal. That combined with the knee jerk Europhobia of the PiS would make a POPiS government hostile to any attempts to create a more `social’ EU.

As Marek notes, the PiS is playing a stronger hand by having won both the presidency and the largest bloc of seats in the Sejm.

The problem with high thresholds in PR

The Beer Lovers Party, which got representation in Poland’s 1991 election, has never returned since the threshold was raised. Thanks for Alan at the Good Beer Blog for the reminder of this overlooked dimension of electoral systems. Given the awful selection of parties in last week’s election, the Beer Lovers Party is needed more than ever!

Their Czech counterpart never did make into parliament (those pesky high thresholds again), but at least they rehabilitated one of Prague’s finest pubs. From As Think Magazine describes it:

At no. 2, right at the bottom of the street, is U Kocoura (House at The Cat). A rarity in this area, this pub makes no attempts to make itself into a magnet for passers-by. No tri-lingual menus, no welcoming hostess, no nothing. Just a few tables covered with dirty table cloths, 22,5Kc for a half litre of Budvar, and a big picture of Garfield on the right hand wall.

The double doors are opened when it’s warm, and the atmosphere is airy and relaxed. It used to be (and maybe still is) owned by (Pratele piva) The Friends of Beer, a former political party…

Yes, former political party. Sigh. And they still own the pub, as far as I know. But I have to admit I have not been to U Kocoura in my last two visits to Prague, having been just a little disappointed that the Friends of Beer changed their pub’s tie from Pilsner Urquell to Budvar and prettied the place up a little too much for a real Czech pub experience. Oh, a topic for a future post…