Nation states no longer work. Benjamin R. Barber

Left to Their Own Devices

The result of the presidential election has given half the country a massive hangover. With the parliamentary elections only five months away, the tectonic plates across the Polish political stage are in motion again.

The success of a conservative, eurosceptic politician in Poland is the first serious piece of evidence that the public mood has turned against the ruling Civic Platform. The prevailing opinion is that the presidential election was more of a loss for Mr Komorowski than a win for Mr Duda. Indeed, the lacklustre campaign of the incumbent, supported by the ruling Civic Platform, has greatly helped Mr Duda. Regardless, it still marks the first victory in a decade for Law and Justice, the largest opposition party.

After the election…

The results of the first and second ballot, as well as events outside the race, indicate that the tectonic plates of the Polish political landscape are in motion again. However, not necessarily in favour of Law and Justice: The Civic Platform and Law and Justice have enjoyed the splendid rightist-rightist split of the political stage for too long. Many Poles have grown tired of the two parties’ domination and gave vent to their anger in the first ballot by supporting an ex-rock star Paweł Kukiz with 21 per cent of the vote. This despite the fact that the musician had a virtually one-point manifesto, namely introducing single-member constituencies.

More interestingly though, the left wing has proved that it is more than in disarray. With no true social democrat in the race, only two out of eleven candidates represented parties at least superficially considered as left-of-centre. Adding insult to injury, their votes combined did not even amount to five per cent, and the choice of a former small-time actor and TV host to run on the ticket of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) — the ruling party between 2001 and 2005 — still perplexes many a political commentator, several SLD’s politicians and supporters, and certainly the electorate at large.

…is before the election

In Poland, much more than elsewhere in Central Europe, it has become something of a tradition that new political entities mushroom leading up to an election. It is then unsurprising that so much is happening in a year with both a presidential and a parliamentary election (the latter will be held in October). Paweł Kukiz is already talking about running – again, with his one-point manifesto and a rightist worldview. Economists gathered around Ryszard Petru and former chairman of the National Bank of Poland Leszek Balcerowicz are setting up NowoczesnaPL (“ModernPL”). For now as an association, but it is no secret that it will soon become an openly political force. Time will tell if there is enough room for both parties to force a wedge into the already packed right wing.

In the meantime, the Left is in dire need of regrouping, with some media outlets questioning raison d’être of left-wing politics in Poland. The SLD’s reputation as a leftist party has long been compromised and Janusz Palikot’s Your Movement has never gained such credentials in the first place. A few public figures, including a few SLD’s politicians, have recently announced their new project, Wolność i Równość (“Freedom and Equality”), yet it seems to lack momentum. Never before has the future of the Polish left-wing parties been so uncertain.

Many socially oriented voters pin their hopes on Razem (“Together”). This phenomenon is an interesting one, because it is a completely grassroots movement, without any ex-communist leaders or other public figures. The new party enjoys great attention on social media and is popular among those with no political experience. Its programme outline appears somewhat radical at first, however, at a closer look, it simply stays true to good, old social democracy. Driven by a belief that different politics is possible and that welfare solutions from other countries can work in Poland, the young people behind Razem are throwing their hat into the ring. Although there are parallels between Razem and the Spanish Podemos, the level of economic malaise of the two countries is different, and it is uncertain whether such an initiative will attract enough voters in Poland.

With five moths to go before the election, it would be unsurprising if more parties were founded. For all new entities, it will be baptism by fire. Some will likely fail at the five per cent hurdle. However, since the public mood seems too far from left, entering the parliament in case of the more right-wing parties might mean entering the government coalition.

Poland is often regarded as a symbol of a successful political transformation. Indeed, the past 25 years have brought stable economic growth, yet many see themselves as losers. There are major disparities persist between urban and rural areas, and between west and east (commonly referred to as Poland A and B), pensioners can barely make ends meet, and plenty young people either emigrate or struggle between unemployment and junk work contracts. The question of who they will trust in October remains largely open, as does that of how cooperative Mr Duda will be with whomever is able to form a government.

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