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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » November 29, 2012
Politics & Society
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Pawlak Out to Pasture
November 29, 2012   
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Waldemar Pawlak, the longtime leader of the rural-based Polish People’s Party (PSL), exhibited rare staying power in Polish politics. He reigned supreme in the party, holding a firm grip on power.

He was effective and repeatedly secured a place for the PSL as a junior partner in post-election government coalitions with both leftist and rightist parties. In the process, he invariably landed a government job. In the early 1990s, he was prime minister for two years, governing in coalition with the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Over the last five years, Pawlak was deputy prime minister and economy minister in the government of Donald Tusk from the center-right Civic Platform. Even though he was often criticized and several times accused of practices such as nepotism and dubious ties to business, he would always emerge unscathed, his hallmark inscrutable expression undisturbed.

It seemed that nothing could ever sink him. But unexpectedly this seemingly indestructible politician lost a battle for the leadership of his party. By a majority of just 17 votes, a PSL convention unseated Pawlak and decided to replace him with Janusz Piechociński, a prominent politician who has criticized Pawlak’s policies for years. The outcome of the vote—by almost 1,100 delegates—was so surprising that some politicians tied to Pawlak did not even congratulate the new party leader.

The fall of the all-powerful leader of the PSL immediately sparked questions about the future of the ruling coalition—especially as Pawlak, immediately after his defeat at the convention, declared that he would resign and leave the government. He was as good as his word—two days later, Prime Minister Donald Tusk accepted his resignation. Despite being evidently surprised at this turn of events, Tusk and his aides declared that they would be doing business as usual. In early December a new deputy prime minister hailing from the PSL is expected to be appointed and the economy minister will also be replaced. It is unclear if Piechociński will step in to fill the vacant posts or whether both these jobs will be taken by the same person. Piechociński could well decide that a better option for himself would be to become deputy prime minister without a portfolio, and hand the job of economy minister, with Tusk’s approval, to another PSL politician. Even though most politicians from both the PO and opposition parties agree that it would be natural for Piechociński to join the government on the same terms as Pawlak before him, Tusk has declared after a meeting with Piechociński that the latter would have a free hand in making a decision. One way or another, Tusk said, the coalition will continue to work along the same rules and pursue the same policy as it did when Pawlak was deputy prime minister and economy minister .

“What I want to do most of all right now is take some rest after seven years as party leader and five years in the government,” said Pawlak in one of his first interviews after losing his position as party chief.

But this declaration may well have a false ring to it. Few politicians in both the PSL and outside that party seem to believe that the 53-year-old politician would be willing to permanently move to the sidelines and settle for being a rank-and-file parliamentarian—especially as he still heads several influential business and social organizations. Consequently, commentators agree that one day Pawlak will probably be back; the only question is how and when.
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