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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » February 23, 2012
Politics & Society
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Tough Times of Reform
February 23, 2012   
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At the start of his second term in office as prime minister, Donald Tusk has plunged ahead with key reforms long-awaited by some, but feared and opposed by others.

The immediate result is a wave of protests and a major drop in the popularity ratings of Tusk’s ruling Civic Platform (PO) party.

Political commentators agree that reforms of the pension system will be a crucial test for the ruling coalition comprising the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party (PSL). Raising the retirement age from 65 to 67 for men and from 60 to 67 for women is beyond doubt the toughest nut to crack for the government.

The right-wing and left-wing opposition, particularly the Law and Justice (PiS) party and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), are firmly opposed to the changes. PiS has recently demanded that a national referendum should be held on this issue. The result of such a vote is easy to predict—more than 80 percent of those polled in surveys for the media are against having to work more years. To make the situation even more difficult for the PO, its junior coalition partner, the PSL, is putting forward ideas which undermine the reform plan. One of these is a proposal that women should be allowed to retire earlier, with the retirement age depending on the number of children they have had.

But Tusk has stood firm. “This is a decision that needs to be taken by someone in the end,” he said at a Feb. 14 press conference on his pension system reforms. “We have come to the conclusion that this is one of the last moments available. We know that this step may be very costly. I am aware of that. The truth is brutal and I want to speak about it with brutal frankness.”

Among other controversies that have hit the government’s approval ratings in recent months are new rules on subsidized drugs. Hundreds of thousands of patients now have more difficult access to prescription drugs because of problems in the new refund system.

As it that weren’t enough, the government’s decision to sign the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement triggered an unprecedented string of attacks on official websites and massive street protests by demonstrators who fear the treaty will bring about censorship of the internet.

The new National Stadium in Warsaw has also proved a PR nightmare for the authorities, with delays annoying soccer fans and denting national pride: no one likes it when a flagship project suffers because someone has botched their job.

But these two problems are relatively easy to deal with—the government has registered the criticism and is taking action.

Meanwhile, controversy over reforms has partially overshadowed the government’s undeniable successes. Many observers say this highlights a weakness in the government’s ability to communicate with the public. The successes include higher-than-expected economic growth, a major rise in Polish exports and a budget deficit zl.15 billion lower than planned. Also, Poland’s first turn at the presidency of the EU was a success.

Tusk has said openly that he wants to carry out major, much-needed and painful reforms in his second term. Time will show how determined he is and whether the public will appreciate this determination.

Witold Żygulski

Problems for PO
Thirty-three percent of voters would have backed the Civic Platform (PO) party if parliamentary elections had been held in early February, according to a survey by the CBOS polling company.

The opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party was backed by 19 percent of those intending to vote. Other parties with enough support to enter the lower house of parliament are the Palikot Movement on 9 percent, the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) on 8 percent, and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) on 7 percent. Parties which scored under 5 percent of support, meaning they would have failed to make the threshold needed to get into parliament, were Solidarna Polska on 3 percent, Poland Comes First (PJN) on 2 percent, the New Right on 2 percent, and the Polish Labor Party (PPP) on 1 percent. The PO saw its ratings drop 7 percentage points in February compared to a CBOS poll in January. PiS and the Palikot Movement gained 1 percentage point each and the number of respondents planning to vote for the SLD rose 4 percentage points between January and February. Support for the PSL remained unchanged. Compared to January, Solidarna Polska gained 1 percentage point.A total of 15 percent of respondents in the poll described themselves as undecided. The poll was conducted Feb. 3-9 on a sample of 999 adults. According to commentators, the poll results show that the PO has been losing support at different rates in different groups. It has lost more supporters among voters with leftist than rightist views, which explains why the number of supporters of left-wing parties is growing faster than that of PiS supporters.
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