The Warsaw Voice » Politics » Monthly - August 28, 2015
Politics & Society
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Political Cohabitation: Trouble Ahead?
   
Poland faces a difficult period of cohabitation until at least the Oct. 25 parliamentary elections, with friction expected between the new president, Andrzej Duda, and the governing Civic Platform (PO) party.

Duda, who was sworn into office Aug. 6 in a joint session of both houses of parliament, hails from the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) opposition party. For almost two months, he will have to work with PiS’s arch-rival, the center-right PO, and its junior partner in the ruling coalition, the Polish People’s Party (PSL).

Duda’s predecessor, Bronisław Komorowski, who hailed from the PO, failed to secure a second term in office after losing in the second round of the presidential election May 24. Duda won 51.55 percent of the vote and Komorowski garnered 48.45 percent.

After his swearing-in ceremony, Duda said that Poland needed a sense of community and that working to achieve this would be a priority at the start of his presidency. He added that Polish society had been deeply divided over the past decade, a situation for which Duda blamed the coalition government of the PO and PSL.

Reiterating the pledges of his presidential campaign, Duda said his priorities as head of state would include drafting and submitting bills to raise the income threshold at which workers start to pay tax and to lower the statutory retirement age from the current 67 years for both men and women. He also signaled that he would be more politically active on the international arena than his predecessor. He said that Polish foreign policy did not “require a revolution, but corrections are needed,” especially in terms of new initiatives within international organizations such as the Visegrad Group—which brings together Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary—and the Weimar Triangle group, which comprises Poland, France and Germany.

At a ceremony at which he officially took over command of Poland’s armed forces, Duda said Poland needed a strong army, especially now that new threats were emerging in Central and Eastern Europe. He added he would seek to obtain new and more detailed guarantees for Poland from its NATO military allies. According to Duda, key decisions in this area should be made at a NATO summit scheduled to take place in Warsaw next June.

The two governing coalition parties reacted skeptically to Duda’s speech. Former president Komorowski described it as a campaign speech for PiS in the run-up to the autumn parliamentary elections.

Even though Duda formally handed in his membership of PiS when he was elected president, his political opponents believe that he will continue to support his former party over the coming three months.

Many PO and PSL politicians, as well as deputies from the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), also believe that, rather than being an independent president, Duda will try to push through policies devised by PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński.

Duda and PiS’s political opponents are stressing the cost of the reforms that Duda promised in his campaign. Janusz Lewandowski, Poland’s former EU budget commissioner and now head of a special group of economic advisers to the prime minister, said, “Duda’s road to the presidency was paved with promises ruinous to public finances.” lewandowski added, “Fulfilling his promises will at least double the budget deficit.”

But Beata Szydło, PiS’s candidate for prime minister, said the reforms promised by Duda would not harm public finances.

Szydło did not give details, but economists believe PiS’s plans include levying higher taxes on banks and foreign companies operating in Poland, including hypermarkets. Critics say higher taxes will inevitably be passed on to customers.

The PO and PSL together still have a majority of votes in parliament and rejecting Duda’s proposals would be easy for them. But that would be like a declaration of war right at the start of a period of cohabitation that might, in fact, last much longer than the next two months.

The final shape of Poland’s political landscape in the coming years will not emerge until the autumn parliamentary elections, even if some opinion polls are predicting that PiS could win an overall majority. Should that happen, PiS will enjoy a political monopoly in Poland for at least four years, with control of parliament and with Duda as president.

However, if PiS wins the most votes in the elections but without a clear parliamentary majority and is unable to form a stable coalition with a right-of-center partner, such as the movement headed by rock-star-turned-politician Paweł Kukiz, then the PO could remain in power, possibly with the PSL or a left-wing party as its coalition partner. That could mean four years of difficult cohabitation and political chaos for Poland.