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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » May 28, 2013
Politics & Society
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Alarm Bells for the Government
May 28, 2013   
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After six years in power, the ruling coalition headed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (PO) is for the first time in real trouble. A series of polls have shown that the center-right PO has been overtaken by the opposition conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

If parliamentary elections were held today, PiS would emerge the winner. Some analysts even say that PiS could secure enough parliamentary seats to command a majority. And if that happened, the party would not have to bother to look for a potential coalition partner. Observers say such a situation could occur if voter turnout were low—and there is every indication that such will be the case— because PiS voters are expected to be more disciplined and go to the polls in greater numbers on election day, while many disillusioned PO supporters are likely to vote with their feet and stay home.

The PO had to swallow another bitter pill recently. PiS’s Bolesław Piecha won a Senate by-election in Rybnik, a city of 140,000 in southern Poland, in a surprise landslide. He garnered more than 28 percent of the vote, while the PO’s contender received only 18 percent. The PO’s defeat is especially painful because the party has been in power at Rybnik City Hall for six years, while 59-year-old Piecha has some controversial entries in his CV. As deputy health minister in a PiS-led government, he was once accused of favoritism regarding certain pharmaceutical companies. He also admitted to long-term alcohol abuse some time ago.

Piecha is seen as a radical politician. In the 1990s he suddenly changed his views on abortion, becoming one of the fiercest advocates of an absolute ban. Earlier, Piecha worked as a gynecologist and performed some 1,000 abortions, by his own count. He has also drafted a parliamentary bill in which PiS demanded a complete ban on in vitro fertilization in Poland. Piecha easily defeated the ruling party’s candidate, who came in third after also losing to an opponent from the local Oburzeni (Occupy) movement, which was founded on a wave of discontent with government policy.

Why is the PO losing support in the polls? Political scientists list several reasons. First, the economic and financial crisis has caught up with Poland and many citizens fear a dramatic drop in their standard of living. Unemployment is rising, there are no signs of recovery on the market, consumers are spending less, their savings are shrinking, and a growing number of employers are failing to pay their workers on time.

Moreover, few of the promises Prime Minister Tusk made before and after his two election victories have been delivered on. Roads are being built at a slower pace than expected, the crisis has affected the national rail carrier and Polish airline LOT, and protests are being staged by one group of workers after another. Tusk’s ministers are making promises by the dozen, but many of these officials are negatively rated by voters. This is accompanied by accusations of corruption and nepotism as well as scandals involving senior administration officials accused of being too close to businesses that are carrying out contracts for the government. Finally, the insufficiently clarified Smolensk plane crash of April 10, 2010—which killed the then Polish president, his wife and 94 other people, including parliamentarians, senior military officers and politicians of all persuasions—has cast a long shadow on the government. The opposition continues to insist that the crash was not an accident but the result of a bomb plot, while government commissions have been unable to convince a large section of the public otherwise.

Observers agree that, contrary to appearances, Tusk needs to take action quickly. Although Polish parliamentary elections are still a distant two years away, European Parliament elections and local government elections in Poland will be held next year. If the PO is defeated by PiS in any of these votes, this may mean the beginning of the end of the Civic Platform’s period in power. The prime minister has announced a major government reshuffle in the middle of the year. But will dismissing a few of the worst-performing ministers be enough to improve voters’ mood?
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