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Monday, August 29, 2005

A primer

For those of you unfamiliar with Polish politics, this gives you a good idea of what's happening and what's at stake this fall:


The poison in Poland
Poland's politicians have the chance in this autumn's parliamentary and presidential elections to end the atmosphere of cynicism hanging over the country's politics.

But they will have to show the sort of determination that founded the Solidarity movement 25 years ago this weekend if they are to take decisive action against corruption, which has alienated voters and undermined faith in public life.

Since the heady days of the early 1990s, governments of ex-Communists and former Solidarity activists alike have been embroiled in financial scandals. For the past 15 months, Poland has been ruled by a caretaker administration, installed after the last party-based government - Leszek Miller's centre-left team - quit amid corruption claims. The dirty linen has aired in televised hearings into alleged wrong-doing by officials dealing with the media, insurance and energy. Even Aleksander Kwasniewski, the internationally respected president, has seen his domestic reputation plummet.

Unfortunately, the centre-right parties that are likely to take power after this month's parliamentary elections have failed to use their time in opposition to create a strong political base. The liberal Civic Platform and the conservative Law and Justice parties target each other almost as much as their rivals on the left. Each is vying to be the senior partner in any coalition and to promote its candidate in October's presidential poll. But they should unite on fighting corruption.

Poland has made huge progress in overthrowing Communism, joining Nato and the European Union, and in implementing reforms. Corruption sometimes influenced policy-making, for example in privatisations. But it never spread far enough to jeopardise EU accession, because of the consensus in favour of integration with Europe.

However, with accession complete, the consensus is fading. After more than 15 years of upheavals, voters are tired of reforms. Some are falling for populist parties, headed by the leftist Self-Defence and the right-wing League of Polish Families. Many more are turning their backs on all politicians.

Mainstream political leaders will now have a much harder job selling the reforms that are still needed if Poland is to see further economic growth, cut unemployment and reap the benefits of EU membership. The public finances, notably the bloated social security budget, need overhauling; labour markets must be made more flexible and the funds found for infrastructure, especially roads.

To respond to these long-term challenges, political leaders need to regain the voters' trust - and they cannot do that without dealing seriously with corruption. The winners of next month's polls will not find the antidote in a day or even a year. But they must start draining the poison from the Polish body politic.


Blogger Gustav said...

Polish News Bulletin:

PiS Launches Counter-Offensive

After disappointing poll results, Lech Kaczynski, Law and Justice's (PiS) candidate for president, has decided it is high time to start catching up with Civic Platform (PO) candidate Donald Tusk. He even took a holiday from his post as Warsaw mayor in order to concentrate on his election campaign.


Potential coalition partners face a situation which resembles the famous prisoners' dilemma: if they remain loyal to each other they both benefit; but they are also tempted to act disloyally and gain in the eyes of the public at the expense of each another.

-Witold Gadomski, a columnist for Gazeta Wyborcza daily, on the prospects facing the Law and Justice (PiS) and the Civic Platform (PO) coalition after September's elections.

8/29/2005 12:17:00 PM  

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