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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » January 7, 2009
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Politics: What's in Store for 2009?
January 7, 2009 By W.¯.    
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This year is expected to see increased political tension in Poland with a continued power struggle between the president and the government, while the leftist opposition attempts to claw back support in the polls.

Dec. 23 marked three years since President Lech Kaczyński was sworn into office. The anniversary became an opportunity for politicians of all stripes to scrutinize the president's track record during this time.

Kaczyński says he is determined to carry on with his agenda in international relations, a policy that produced repeated standoffs with the government of Donald Tusk last year.

"I am critical of many of the president's decisions and I'm also critical of his indecision in various other areas," Prime Minister Tusk said when asked about Kaczyński's record. It would be good if the president developed "a more open attitude towards the government," Tusk said.

Tusk lambasted Kaczyński for vetoing a string of bills drafted by the governing coalition of the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People's Party (PSL). These included a package of legislation designed to reform Poland's healthcare system.

Tusk also criticized Kaczyński for failing to sign the EU's Lisbon Treaty, the key document designed to streamline the workings of the European Union which has to be ratified by all 27 member states to come into force. Ever since Ireland rejected the treaty in a referendum last June, Kaczyński has been delaying signing the document, saying that it does not matter whether or not Poland ratifies the treaty as long as Ireland opposes it. Kaczyński has said on many occasions that he will sign the treaty as soon as it is approved by Ireland. Most recently, he reiterated this view at an EU summit in Brussels in early December.

Even though he has not officially confirmed that he will seek reelection in 2010, Kaczyński plans to tour the country early this year. He plans to visit all of Poland's 16 provinces, paying special attention to institutions of higher education. According to his aides, Kaczyński wants to "establish rapport with intellectuals and university students."

Previously, Kaczyński toured the country in November when Poland celebrated 90 years of regained independence. This time analysts say the president's spin doctors want to highlight Kaczyński's long-standing experience as a law professor and his ties with the academic community. Through direct meetings with university students, Kaczyński hopes to become more popular in academic circles. The president's advisers say that while his appearances in the media do not always do Kaczyński justice, he gains in a face-to-face conversation. At each university and college, Kaczyński will give lectures about current affairs and will explain why he is pursuing his own foreign policy independent of that exercised by the government. He will also speak about the reasons for his controversial vetoes of some government bills, and why he decided to attend EU summits despite objections from the prime minister. After the lectures, university students and staff will be able to ask the president questions.

Analysts say Kaczyński's conflict with the government partially stems from his reelection aspirations, especially as Tusk himself is also likely to run for the presidency. Moreover, Kaczyński has been accused of indiscriminately supporting Law and Justice (PiS), the main opposition party led by his twin brother Jarosław Kaczyński.

Due to the standoff, the ruling coalition is having a hard time carrying out its policies. In the last several weeks, the president has vetoed several bills that the government says are essential for continued economic and social reforms. As a result, the coalition has been forced to make tactical alliances with the leftist opposition in the lower house. Parliamentary arithmetic means a tactical alliance with the leftists is the only way for the governing coalition to override the president's vetoes. A recent vote on a retirement bill was a case in point.

Meanwhile, the left-wingers see their alliance of convenience with the governing coalition as an opportunity to secure higher poll ratings and regain at least part of the support they have lost in the last few years.

In recent months the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has stopped sinking in the polls in what may mark the beginning of the party's return to power, according to party leader Grzegorz Napieralski. Supported by around 9-11 percent of the electorate, the SLD is now a major player in Polish politics, Napieralski says, and can no longer be ignored by either the PO or PiS. According to Napieralski, the party is looking forward to this year's election to the European Parliament, seeing it as an important test.

Meanwhile, commentators are wondering whether any new parties will appear on Poland's political scene this year. For months there has been talk of new center-right and center-left groups in the offing. So far none of these initiatives has gained more than 5 percent support in the polls, the threshold needed to make it into parliament. But commentators say that the real test will be the European Parliament elections in June-meaning that any new parties would have to be formed by early spring at the latest.
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