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Politics & Society
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Politics of Discontent
If you thought President Bronisław Komorowski’s defeat in the presidential elections was a one-off political shock, think again. Alfred Hitchcock’s famous maxim springs to mind when you think of recent developments in Polish politics: a good movie should start with an earthquake and be followed by rising tension.

Poland has already seen an instance of two partners in a governing coalition failing to be reelected for a second term in office. It happened in 2001 and the hapless parties in question were the ruling Solidarity Election Action (AWS) and its junior coalition partner, the Freedom Union (UW). Predictably, both parties soon ceased to exist and their members either joined other groupings or tried to form new parties, with varying degrees of success.

Opinion polls are indicating that while the Civic Platform (PO) party, which has ruled Poland for eight years, need not fear political annihilation just yet, its chances of retaining power are receding fast. However, the PO’s junior coalition partner, the Polish People’s Party (PSL), is facing a much darker future, as its ratings in the opinion polls indicate it will fail to make it into parliament.

You may think Poland faces a return to the 2005-2007 period, when the now-opposition Law and Justice (PiS) ruled the country together with two minor parties that won enough seats in parliament to become useful sidekicks. This is not necessarily the scenario we will see after this fall’s elections—the two significant new political movements that have recently emerged seem unwilling to play the part of a tame support act for a bigger, more established party.

What the two new movements have in common is that they bring together the discontented. One represents people who feel they have not benefited from the sweeping social and economic changes following the collapse of communism 25 years ago. The other is trying to appeal to voters who have benefited from the changes. Surprisingly, both groupings seem equally discontented.

Just several months ago, 52-year-old rock musician Paweł Kukiz, well known for his strong language and controversial songs, was regarded as a political peculiarity at best. But after he came third in the first round of the presidential election, scoring a phenomenal 21 percent of the vote (much more than opinion polls had predicted), nobody dares to underestimate him any more.

While there is no formal Kukiz party yet and its leader has not unveiled any coherent program, in some polls Kukiz’s grouping has made it into second place, behind PiS but ahead of the PO. Most of Kukiz’s supporters are aged 18-29. They are young people who believe things have been bad in Poland for years and that politicians are basically a gang of schemers and thieves.

The other group trying to tap into a well of discontent is led by 43-year-old Ryszard Petru, an economist and banker who could serve as a model of success. Petru hopes that his grouping,, will appeal to similarly successful people—that is, the opposite of those who want to vote for Kukiz. Up to now, the business-friendly PO seemed to be the natural party for the well-off, but now it appears that even the affluent are discontented. In opinion polls, has been scoring enough to make it into parliament, but usually under 10 percent. Combined, the ratings of Petru’s grouping and those of the PO are almost the same as what the PO had been scoring on its own until recently. To cut a long story short, affluent but unhappy voters are turning their backs on a party that has championed their interests so far.

The coming months and the elections in October will show if and how discontented voters can change the course of events in Poland.