Tusk Wins Vote of Confidence
October 26, 2012
Prime Minister Donald Tusk, under fire for his hanling of the slowing economy and losing support in the polls, Oct. 12 won a vote of confidence from parliament, with a margin of 233 in favor, 219 against and no abstentions. A record 452 of the house’s 460 deputies took part in the vote.
Before the vote, Tusk delivered a policy speech in which he briefed deputies on what his center-right government has done so far and what it plans to do in the future. The address was followed by a long and stormy debate during which more than 60 parliamentarians took the floor.
After the debate, Tusk said that many of his aides had advised him against running the risk of formally asking parliament for a vote of confidence, but he decided that his plans required “a sense of political clarity,” especially in view of a determined campaign recently launched by the resurgent opposition, who have proposed their own “nonpartisan” candidate for prime minister.
Among the key priorities he outlined in his address, Tusk promised to extend paid maternity leave from six to 12 months, with 100 percent of the salary paid to those who choose a six-month leave and 80 percent of the salary paid to those on 12-month leave. Tusk said the new regulations could come into force next year. He also proposed changes to rules governing funds for the construction of new nurseries. Under the new rules, the local government would be required to cover only 20 percent of the total cost of the project and private operators would be eligible to apply for public funding. Tusk said his government decided to transfer an additional zl.320 million for the preschool system in 2013.
Tusk said the government had no intention of introducing obligatory social insurance contributions for workers who are not employed under permanent contracts. Now is not the right time for raising labor costs in any way, Tusk said, because the main priority for people at this time of international crisis is to keep their jobs.
Listing other priorities, Tusk said the government will invest zl.60 billion by 2020 in projects designed to enhance Poland’s energy security. These will include new power generating units in power plants and a new gas terminal. Additionally, the government will come up with a draft law on shale gas in the coming days, Tusk said.
Another program planned by the government, called Polish Investment, will be operated by state-run Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK). By 2015 the government wants to acquire zl.40 billion to spend on public infrastructure projects. Tusk said zl.43 billion would be set aside to press ahead with the construction of freeways and national roads in the years 2012-2015. He added that the railway modernization program will also continue to run.
Tusk said the government will spend extra funds on research infrastructure and work to streamline the court system. He also announced new bankruptcy regulations and new legislation governing construction projects.
According to Tusk, it is realistic for Poland to expect zl.300 billion from the EU budget for the 2014-2020 period, though getting this much money may not be easy, he said. He called the amount a “satisfactory minimum.”
Next year will be a more difficult year than 2012, Tusk said, and will require creativity in devising ways to effectively protect the country against the crisis.
The governing coalition parties praised Tusk’s speech, while the opposition criticized it. Janusz Palikot, leader of the Palikot Movement, said the prime minister has no vision for the country. “It was the poorest speech by Donald Tusk I have ever heard,” Palikot said.
Leszek Miller, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party, said the top priority for the government should be to put Poland back on track for fast economic growth.
Tadeusz Cymański, the prime ministerial candidate of the conservative opposition Solidarna Polska party, criticized Tusk for failing to mention healthcare issues in his speech. Cymański’s party colleague Ludwik Dorn, a former parliamentary Speaker, said Tusk’s motion for a vote of confidence was a “sign of weakness and fear.”
Tusk accused opposition politicians of lying because “the truth about what is taking place in Poland is the truth about the Polish people’s genuine successes, the truth that life is hard for many people, but thanks to their effort we are all moving forward, that Poland is not a country of poverty, garbage dumps and burning ruins.”
The prime minister’s speech was criticized by Prof. Piotr Gliński, a sociologist from the Polish Academy of Sciences, whom the largest opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS), Oct. 1 unexpectedly proposed as a candidate for prime minister—to head a government of technocrats that would replace Tusk’s Cabinet should the latter lose a vote of no confidence planned for late October or early November.
Gliński said Tusk’s government did not have a genuine development policy, while the prime minister’s speech was a collection of diverse proposals without any cohesion or strategic concept. He added it was doubtful whether it would be possible to put these proposals into practice and acquire the necessary funding. Gliński also lambasted Tusk for calling the proposal to extend maternity leave a “revolution”, while it should be only his first step on the road to changing the government’s policy vis-a-vis families. Gliński added that the government’s proposals were inconsistent, as exemplified by last year’s increase in the VAT rate on children’s clothing. Gliński also criticized Tusk for not mentioning the healthcare sector in his speech. He said the prime minister should focus on deregulating the market and services, and on relaxing fiscal regulations to make it easier for people to set up and run businesses and create new jobs. An additional problem, Gliński said, is red tape, which is a burden on public finances. He also lashed out at the Tusk government for “failing to counteract the crisis and exclusion.”
At a press conference following the parliamentary vote, Gliński did not answer if PiS would motion for a new vote of no confidence against Tusk’s Cabinet, but said his own mission would continue. However, most politicians and commentators agree that PiS’s decision to propose Gliński as a candidate for prime minister was a ludicrous idea. Gliński, who until recently was not involved in active politics and is little known even to PiS members, says he will be conducting talks about his “mission” with all political parties, but no details have been released as yet.
Meanwhile, a survey by the TNS Polska polling company—released a few days before Tusk’s parliamentary speech—showed that, for the first time in more than five years, the opposition has moved ahead of the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party.
Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed by TNS Polska said they would vote for PiS and 33 percent for the PO. However, a day after Tusk’s speech and the vote of confidence secured by his government, the PO again topped the list in another TNS Polska poll, though with only a slim margin ahead of the opposition. If parliamentary elections were held Oct. 14, PO would win 37 percent of the vote, PiS 36 percent, the SLD 12 percent, and the Palikot Movement 7 percent. The junior coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party (PSL), would garner only 4 percent and thus fail to make it into parliament. However, PSL’s popularity ratings have often been below the election threshold in the polls, but on election day the party has invariably been successful in getting into parliament.
PM’s Spending Promises
Road and freeway construction—zl.43 billion in 2012-2015
Railroad construction and modernization—zl.30 billion in 2013-2015
Energy sector—zl.60 billion until 2020
Shale gas extraction—zl.5 billion to come from Polish companies and zl.50 billion from foreign investors until 2016
Modernization of the military and police forces—zl.10 billion in 2013-2014 and zl.1 billion in 2013-2015
Science and research—zl.10 billion in 2012-2015
Investment for Poland program carried out by Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego bank—zl.40 billion until 2015
Funds from the 2014-2020 EU budget—zl.300 billion