The Warsaw Voice » Politics » Monthly - December 13, 2015
Politics & Society
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New Government Takes Office
Following a policy speech by Prime Minister Beata Szyd這, the new majority government of the Law and Justice (PiS) party won a vote of confidence from the lower house of parliament Nov. 18. But the opposition warned that the new authorities’ lavish spending promises were unrealistic.

After PiS won October’s parliamentary elections with more than 37 percent of the vote, Szyd這 heads Poland’s first non-coalition Cabinet after the fall of communism in 1989. Her government got the support of 236 deputies in the 460-seat house. In favor of the new government were all 234 members of the PiS caucus and two unaffiliated deputies. Almost all (136) deputies from the Civic Platform (PO) voted against, as did 40 members of the Kukiz’15 grouping and all 28 deputies of the Nowoczesna (Modern) party. Kukiz’15 deputy Kornel Morawiecki, father of new deputy Prime Minister and Development Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, abstained, along with German Minority deputy Ryszard Galla. Notable abstentions also included those by all 15 Polish People’s Party (PSL) deputies present during the vote. These abstentions are seen as a clear message that the PSL is ready to back the new PiS Cabinet even though, for the last eight years, it governed the country together with the PO as its junior coalition partner.

Before the Nov. 18 vote, Szyd這 gave a policy speech in which she said that voters had opted for “the politics of change” in the Oct. 25 parliamentary elections and that her Cabinet was a guarantee of that. Change, she said, is about dialogue with the public and about the government being aware of people’s needs and concerns. Szyd這 added that the new government would be quick to fulfill its election promises, those made before both the parliamentary and presidential elections, so citizens would be able to assess it during its first 100 days.

Commentators point out that Szyd這 spoke more about election promises than any other new Polish prime minister has done in the past 25 years. While most previous government heads seemed reluctant to mention some of the promises made by the leaders of victorious parties, Szyd這 mentioned practically everything PiS had pledged to do. She said her government would seek to foster the country’s development and serve the people, including the underprivileged. “We firmly discard the claim that has been hanging over our heads for 25 years that nothing can be done to help the people, especially those less well-off financially,” Szyd這 said. “Well, things can get done. The priority is the country’s development.” Szyd這 added that Poland needed enterprise and that, under the new government, “small businesses will evolve to become medium-sized enterprises, medium-sized ones will become large, and large enterprises will compete on the global market.”

Szyd這 went on to list the government’s priorities in its first 100 days in office. These include a monthly allowance of zl.500 that PiS plans to award to families with two and more children. Low-income families will be eligible even if they have only one child, according to Szyd這. She said the government was also aiming to lower the retirement age back to 65 years for men and 60 for women from the current 67 for both sexes, and to raise the tax-free income threshold to zl.8,000. Other priorities for the government’s first 100 days include free medicines for senior citizens above 75 years of age, an increase in the minimum wage to zl.12 an hour, new regulations on social insurance for farmers, and new methods to protect Polish land from uncontrolled purchase by foreigners. “The government’s zl.500-per-child program will be proceeded with urgently so that support can be disbursed in the first quarter of 2016,” Szyd這 said after deputies asked her for details. She added that sources of funding for the program would be detailed in the 2016 draft budget; in part these would include funds from new taxes imposed on the banking sector and hypermarkets as well as funds generated through more efficient tax collection.

In her policy speech, Szyd這 mentioned PiS’s plan to reform the Polish schooling system. She said the government would restore eight-grade elementary and four-year high schools to replace the current system based on six-grade elementary schools, three-grade middle schools and three-grade high schools. As a result, middle schools will be closed down, but Szyd這 said this would be a gradual process so middle school teachers had no reason to fear layoffs.

The opposition criticized Szyd這 for failing to be more specific about Poland’s foreign policy. For example, opposition politicians pointed out that she said nothing about the crisis in Ukraine and did not mention Poland’s relations with Germany, its biggest economic partner. Szyd這 said that, under the new government, the country would oppose divisions in Europe and seek to strengthen the position of the entire region. Szyd這 added her government would pay a lot of attention to contacts with Polish expats, protect Poles living abroad and, in case of emergency, evacuate them to Poland.

Ewa Kopacz, the prime minister of the previous coalition government of the PO and the PSL, described her successor’s policy speech as a “carnival of unrealistic promises.” Kopacz, who said she would not be standing in a PO election to choose a new party leader, added that PiS’s political and economic ideas would last no longer than a few months.

Ryszard Petru, an economist and leader of the opposition Nowoczesna party, said the government’s spending plans were unrealistic, which was best exemplified by Szyd這’s promise of “one trillion zlotys for development.” That’s three times more than the government’s total annual revenue, Petru said.