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The Warsaw Voice » From the News Editor » December 21, 2011
From the News Editor
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Waiting for Reforms
December 21, 2011   
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After the Oct. 9 parliamentary elections won by the Civic Platform (PO) party, many commentators expressed the hope that Poland would embark on a path of fast, radical reforms. The situation in which a ruling party managed to stay in power for a second term—an unprecedented development in Poland after the fall of communism in 1989—seemed to be exceptionally comfortable for the PO. Not only had its coalition with the Polish People’s Party (PSL) survived, but another potential coalition partner appeared—the Palikot Movement. The Palikot Movement is the third strongest party in the new parliament, with more seats than the PSL. It generally supports the PO’s ideas as to what should change in Poland.

Political scientists say the PO can now use the Palikot Movement to put pressure on the PSL, for example to force the junior coalition partner to accept legislation unfavorable to rural and small-town voters. Among the most important bills of this kind could be the long-awaited reform of the Farmers’ Social Insurance Fund (KRUS), the institution providing old-age, disability, accident, sickness and maternity insurance to farmers. In the previous parliament, the PSL successfully blocked the reform, insisting that farmers should keep their insurance privileges. Without the PSL’s support, no such legislation could be adopted, especially as former President Lech Kaczyński—who was killed in a plane crash in April 2010—would have likely vetoed it. The new president, Bronisław Komorowski, hails from the PO, which can now turn to the Palikot Movement if the PSL decides to withhold support for reforms.

Despite the PO’s considerable room for maneuver, the parliament has yet to start large-scale reformatory work. In his policy speech in parliament Nov. 19, Prime Minister Donald Tusk outlined his planned reforms, but concrete measures on the scale expected have not yet appeared. What’s more, the PSL has come up with its own reform ideas, which virtually undermine Tusk’s reform plan, although the PSL does not formally oppose it. During a recent debate on the retirement age, Tusk said it would be gradually raised to 67 years for both men and women. At present, Polish men retire at 65 and women at 60. In response, the PSL proposed that women should be allowed to retire earlier, with the age depending on the number of children they have had.

There is no indication that the start of the year will see the reform process moving ahead full steam. Surveys show that the public is growing impatient. Support for the PO has fallen by 6 percentage points to 36 percent over a month, though support for the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party has also dropped sharply, from almost 30 percent on election day Oct. 9 to 19 percent. It seems that Poles are critical of the ruling party, but this does not mean they have confidence in the opposition.
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