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Elections and Defections
May 27, 2011   
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In the wake of the unexpected defection of Bartosz Arłukowicz, a popular left-wing parliamentarian, to the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party, a heated national debate has broken out about whether it’s acceptable for politicians to suddenly switch one set of political ideals for another in order to boost their career.

Does loyalty to a political philosophy still mean anything to politicians? Is a shift in allegiance as spectacular as the one by Arłukowicz, and that in an election year, compatible with European standards of public life. In most cases, the answer in the public debate to both questions was ‘no.’

But careful observers of developments in recent years will notice that the ruling PO party has “specialized” in attracting politicians who were once hostile to it or indifferent at best. Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski—who even stood a chance of becoming the PO’s candidate in last year’s presidential election, but was defeated in the primaries by Bronisław Komorowski—was defense minister in the government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party a few years ago. Bohdan Borusewicz, Speaker of the lower house of parliament, assumed the post in 2007 on the PO’s recommendation after he publicly announced his decision to break away from PiS. Earlier, he supported Lech Kaczyński of PiS in the 2005 presidential election. Antoni Mężydło, who had once been a popular PiS deputy, joined the PO before the 2007 parliamentary elections and won a parliamentary seat again. And Danuta Hübner, former minister for European affairs in a left-wing government and, before that, a member for 17 years of the communist party which held power in Poland until 1989, joined the PO party before the 2009 European parliamentary elections.

As a result, it’s hard to resist the impression that the 40-year-old Arłukowicz, an ambitious and respected politician whom the equally ambitious leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), Grzegorz Napieralski, recently sidelined, decided to place his bet on a safer horse in this year’s race for parliament. We are likely to see an interesting election clash—Napieralski and Arłukowicz are preparing to run for parliament on competing tickets in the same constituency, the northwestern city of Szczecin.

Napieralski defeat would mean a serious blow for the SLD, a party considered to be a prospective junior coalition partner for the winner of the autumn elections. It is worth noting that commentators think that the SLD is ready to form a coalition with both the PO and the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party. The SLD seems to enjoy the reputation of a “universal” party, one ready to give up some of its policy guidelines in order to make it into government. Commenting on his surprise decision, Arłukowicz said he was afraid that PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński would again come to power and that as member of the SLD parliamentary group “he had to vote together with PiS and against the PO all too often.”

The Arłukowicz case may set a precedent for many similar political transfers in the coming months. Only after the elections will it become clear what their outcome will be in terms of the lineup of the government and the opposition.
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