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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Putting on their election hats

Who's the biggest populist in Poland?

You know election season has started in Poland when populists start promising the moon. With local elections just a couple of months away, the three parties in Poland's ruling coalition have begun a game of political one-upmanship, each seeing which can promise more voters an election gift with the biggest bow, and which can portray previoius fiscal reforms as a more outrageous pillaging of the state.

The pit-bull and the bugbear

We start off with Law and Justice (PiS). This week the party sicced its pit-bull Artur Zawisza on that bugbear of all Polish anti-reformists, central-bank chief Leszek Balcerowicz. Zawisza heads the Banking Investigative Commission – PiS' pet project – which was created with all but the express purpose of publicly hanging Balcerowicz for all of Poland's economic woes since the transition from communism to capitalism.

Just as the commission was gearing up to have its first meeting, Zawisza suggested the existence of “notes” written by Polish Special Services alleging that Balcerowicz had cheated the state during the privatization of Bank Pekao in 1999.

Balcerowicz's head on a platter is just the kind of gift the ducks would love to give their constituents in the runup to the elections, and evidence that he had cheated the state out of billions would have piled up the votes for PiS. But when Balcerowicz threatened legal action against Zawisza, the pit-bull backed off with his tail between his legs faster than you can say “spayed and neutered”, whimpering that he had only pointed out a conflict of interest.

The damage may be done however, as the insinuation of these notes' existence is enough to convince those who want to believe Balcerowicz pilfered state coffers. And since Balcerowicz is expected to undergo a long, nasty interrogation by the commission in front of TV cameras for the whole country to see, PiS may gain the political capital they're looking for yet.

Balcerowicz, who can always be counted upon to shoot off an inflamatory quip whenever there's a microphone nearby, is so exasperated that he compared the government to that of Iran, and said it was causing Poland's democracy to “degenerate”.

“There is a competition among the coalition partners as to who will be a bigger populist,” Balcerowicz told public radio yesterday morning.

Back to the future

Which brings us to the League of Polish Families (LPR), the ultra-conservative reactionaries who are in danger of not winning anything at all this election season. To pump up the poll numbers, the party has pledged to become even more hardline - and began that campaign two weeks ago with a proposal to re-introduce the death penalty in Poland.

Monday, the party's Frankenstein-in-chief, Roman Giertych, said that his party would work to enact a law allowing the government to retract the privatization of any previously state-owned firm that his party deemed unlawful, and demanded the support of the coalition partners. Which firms would be targeted, and whether the state would pay compensation to those it snatched these companies from is as yet unclear. No worries though. “The value of seized assets would be higher than potential compensation,” LPR deputy Wojciech Wierzejski guarantees.

Getting this law past a little thing called the Polish Constitution would prove a herculean task, but that matters little, as the proposed law has no chance of ever seeing the light of day. However, simply proposing it just might get enough LPR voters to the polls to keep them present in some local governments.

Not to be left out, Poland's premier pugi-populist, leader of Self-defense Andrzej Lepper, has decided to buy his votes the old fashioned way: with direct handouts from the budget. He wants the government to spend more than the zł.30 billion ceiling they've set for themselves on things like miners pensions and fuel subsidies for farmers. If they don't, he's threatened – again – to leave the coalition and force early elections.

“If there is not a pro-social budget...we will not approve it and this means early elections,” Lepper told public radio yesterday.

Of course, nobody actually expects him to go through with this plan. He's just making sure all the farmers know whose side he's on when it comes time to head to the polls. Seriously, how can anyone believe a word he's saying anymore?

How can anyone believe a word any of them say anymore?

And why do the Polish people keep falling for this?


Anonymous Chuck said...

Hey! He's wearing my t-shirt! That's where it went!

8/23/2006 05:15:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

He'll probably give that to the farmers too.

8/23/2006 07:52:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

But all Lepper is doing is representing his constituency. The people who vote for him think privatization will threaten their jobs (probably true), and the unemployed and those who rely on state benefits are treated like dirty.

And this government and the government before it and the one before that has failed large sections of society.

So blaming Lepper for putting forward the interests of the people who vote for him is not understanding that the reason that people like Lepper are popular is because governments in general are failing a lot of people in Poland.

Lepper is just doing what he was elected to do. Just like Civic Platform wants a flat tax for its core voters. I wonder why?

8/23/2006 09:43:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Ultimately, his policies will keep his constituency poorer, longer. He's not putting forward the interests of the people - He's putting forward his own interests.

PO wants a flat tax for EVERYBODY - not just their voters. But I'm willing to question how well that would serve the country too.

8/24/2006 10:34:00 AM  

Blogger beatroot said...

don’t believe that fashionable nonsense that ALL politicians are self serving bastards. Many are. But I don’t think Lepper is of them. He is a socialist. He does not trust the market to able to deliver for everyone. He also thinks that the state should be a major player in distributing resources etc. That’s the way he thinks. His voters do to.

Civic Platform are free market of course and believe in ‘trickle down’ economics, hence the flat tax idea.

Both PO and Somoobrona believe their model to be correct.

But if you are going to accuse Lepper of self serving rhetoric then you have to do the same about Tusk and his type…flat tax obviously benefits the better off, less obviously benefits poorer people on welfare, pensions and those who rely on the state.

I think that you are accusing Lepper of only wanting to stay in power because you don’t agree with the way he thinks. And that is not a good starting point to base a political analysis on. If fact, it is not a political analysis at all.

8/24/2006 11:02:00 AM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Beatroot -

Do you not remember just a few months ago, during the election campaign, when he repeated over and over again his familiar campaign that "Balcerowicz must go!"?

Not long after, in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, he admitted that it was just "campaign rhetoric" and that he didn't really believe Balcerowicz should be removed. He even gave him credit for the good economy.

When someone admits outright that what they say they are fighting for is a lie, I tend to believe they are self-serving.

Nor did I say that "ALL" politicians are self-serving.

I believe that Lepper believes very strongly that capitalism has wronged Poland's farmers. But since he's been in office, he hasn't done a damn thing for them - but he's sure built up a personality cult around himself.

But you're right that I don't agree with the way he thinks.

PO, and Tusk, on the other hand, have stuck to their guns, despite the political unpopularity of a flat tax. They didn't abandon it to get into power. Indeed, when they had the chance to cave to PiS' populist demands during the coalition negotiations, they didn't, and chose to stick to their principles in opposition rather than turn around and betray their constituency. You may not agree with the flat tax, but at least they didn't abandon the idea in return for political power.

And finally, your assessment:

flat tax obviously benefits the better off, less obviously benefits poorer people on welfare, pensions and those who rely on the state

That idea is being proven wrong by examples in Estonia and Slovakia. All over the region, flat taxes have proven to INCREASE tax revenue (fewer people dodge taxes) - thus giving the state more money for handouts - or investments. Also, flat taxes attract business - which create jobs (and tax revenue...), and allow people who can work to get OFF welfare - which should be the ultimate goal.

Flat taxes certainly give the rich more money to spend. And that may be unfair. But which is better, a fair system that keeps people impoverished and dependent on the state, or an unfair one that makes people's lives better?

8/24/2006 12:42:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

You see, what you are proving is not that this or that politician is lying when he says he wants to better the life for his people but that you believe in neo-liberal economics.

OK, that's your bag. But it proves nothing about Lepper other than you don't like his politics.

8/24/2006 12:54:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Did you only read the end of the comment beatroot?

I said:

I believe that Lepper believes very strongly that capitalism has wronged Poland's farmers. But since he's been in office, he hasn't done a damn thing for them - but he's sure built up a personality cult around himself.

What has Lepper done for farmers? When has he kept his word to them? I never said that he was lying when he said he wants a better life for "his people". I just implied that he was lying when he said that he would do something about it - and so he did.

When has Tusk gone back on his word? Really, I'd like to know. Though I do believe in liberal economics, I'm not tied to PO (as I've said many, many times before, my preferred party is Partia Demokratyczna). I'm willing to admit that Tusk is a slimeball that only promises flat-taxes because he wants to get elected. But I'd have to see some proof first.

Provide it please.

8/24/2006 01:03:00 PM  

Blogger beatroot said...

You can only go back on promises when you are in government. Tusk is not in government.

But when he ever does then you will see promises tumbling faster than a pack of cards. It's what politician do when they get in government and come up against the contraints and realities of being in a coalition of interests. Compromises have to be made, positions backtracked.

To present Lepper as somehow unique because he breaks promises is a little naive, to say the least.

It's normal.

But it doesn't mean that those politicians are 'just in it for themselves' blah blah blah....He believes the things he says aand has been prepared to get up off his arse and fight for those things.

Lepper represents the thinking of many in Poland and so it is legitimate that he is part of the government.

8/24/2006 03:23:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

You can only go back on promises when you are in government.

Not true. Lepper was going back on his promises long before he was in government. Opposition parties make promises all the time - and keep them too. Democrats in the US Congress pledged to defeat George Bush's Social Security proposals - and did so. Lepper has been promising more handouts for farmers as long as anybody can remember. He also promised to keep Poland out of the EU. Now he supports EU membership and the farmers haven't got their handouts.

To present Lepper as somehow unique because he breaks promises is a little naive, to say the least.

That's true. It's good then that I didn't say that. Lepper doesn't just "break promises". He breaks every promise - because he promises things he can't deliver in order to get elected. What do you call politicians who knowingly promise things they can't deliver? I call them opportunists - and liars.

He believes the things he says aand has been prepared to get up off his arse and fight for those things.

Only if those things he "fights for" consists of a creating a perpetual state of unstable government by constantly threatening to pull out of government. You said compromises have to be made in politics - When has Lepper "compromised"? He just loses, and then changes his mind!

Other than making empty threats, how has Lepper "fought for" the things he says he believes in? Again, I ask, how has he helped the farmers? Perhaps more relevant, which political goal has Lepper set out to achieve to make peoples lives better, and succeeded? Please, at least one example.

Far as I can tell, all he has managed to do is make a lot of people angry, destabilize the government, and get his face in the paper a whole lot.

Is that his political philosophy? Is that what he "believes in"? Is that what his constituents want?

Lepper represents the thinking of many in Poland ...

I never denied this,

... and so it is legitimate that he is part of the government.

nor this, though I might be tempted to - he is a convicted criminal after all.

But that's not even the point. The point is that Lepper promises things that he knows - everybody knows - he can't deliver.

And people vote for him anyway!

8/24/2006 03:49:00 PM  

Anonymous Amy aka Meilam said...

Wow, what a fierce discussion!

8/24/2006 09:27:00 PM  

Blogger Gustav said...

Welcome Amy/Meilam,

This is nothing. Beatroot and I can go on and on like this for hours and hours and hours...

Maybe we're crazy, but strangely, we think it's fun!

8/24/2006 09:32:00 PM  

Anonymous Amy said...


Hahaha I can imagine you both can go on like this for ages...
But it's also fun to read :)

8/24/2006 11:30:00 PM  

Anonymous Amy said...

OK, I'm gone to my addiction ;)

8/24/2006 11:34:00 PM  

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